How to adapt international copy

Rupert Brendon – 2013

December 11, 2013



Clients are becoming increasingly international and are keen to exploit a successful piece of advertising from one market and transfer it to another. Yet copy adaptation continues to produce some of the most brilliant successes, and also some of the most impressive flops. Here are some of the lessons we have learnt that lend a little more understand­ing and certainty to a difficult subject.

1.     Ensure the strategy is relevant.

Really understand the advertising you are adapting. What does it promise? Why does it work? Many international campaigns fail because the same product usage, habits, and attitudes on which the campaign was based do not prevail outside the country of origin. The strategy may also be irrelevant because of different competitors or it may already be pre-empted.

2.     Transfer the real communicative heart of the advertising.

Be careful of saying a strategy is irrelevant—all too often that can be part of the N .I.H. syndrome (“Not Invented Here”). Cowboys only exist in the U.S., and the Marlboro campaign was resisted by all Philip Morris foreign subsidiaries. Dozens of other campaigns have been produced but the cowboy campaign always wins, because the Marlboro campaign is selling manliness, not just cowboys.

3.     Test your adaptation.

To see if you really have transferred the mystic something that makes the advertising work. A quick first step might be to put on a local sound track and show it to a number of consumers. Nothing helps you understand a commercial better than hearing consumers talk about it. You’ll quickly find whether it’s relevant, and a host of minor things you might want to change in your final version.

4.     Disregard trivialities.

In fact, once you have the central idea, do everything else to make the advertising look as home grown as possible. Don’t change any­thing that is fundamental to the success of the advertising—but change things which are only window dressing and essentially unimportant.

5.     Adaptation is not a cop-out.

It does not relieve you of the responsibility of independent, intellectual effort. Even if you adapt, you must still think. In fact, you probably need to think harder and more analytically than ever. You have the oppor­tunity to decide whether there is a superflu­ous step in the argument, that shooting the demonstration a different way could improve it, that you need an alternate to test against it, or a back-up in test market.


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