Global Marketing Pendulum Poised to Swing Back: Sorrell

02 October 2003

The trend to globalized marketing, hyped and huckstered in the 80s as the larger agency agglomerates spotted an irresistible opportunity for worldwide growth, could be about to swing back.

Or so believes WPP Group chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell (58), one of the major beneficiaries of the trend over the past two decades. And few know better than he that the inexorable nature of a pendulum is to alternate between opposites. The trick is to know when the swingback will begin.

In an interview Tuesday with the Wall Street Journal, Sorrell confided his latest philosophy: that the global 'one-size-fits-all' marketing pendulum has reached the limits of its swing and that the legionnaires of his planet-wide empire must now focus on the needs and aspirations of local consumers. What sells stateside, he asserts, no longer automatically moves off the shelves in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

"I think we're losing country focus, which is why we're creating country managers in Holland, Italy and China," explained Sorrell. "Our clients are doing the same thing. If you don't have someone leading the business [locally], you don't get government contacts, education contacts and political contacts."

Asked why he believes global marketing may now metamorphose into to a more localized approach, Sir Martin cited an anonymous fmcg client which had refocused strongly into globalized core brands – at which point a local executive protested: "Thirty percent of my profits come from a brand that may be jettisoned."

The Sorrell moral? "What's happened is that companies are trying to run things in black and white ways, where one size fits all. And there's a very simple message: One size doesn't fit all. Consumers are more interesting for their differences rather than their similarities."

Quizzed the WSJ: "If one size doesn't fit all, should companies be marketing to certain consumer groups, such as Muslims, with specific messages?"

Replied Sorrell: "Yes, just as they'd market to Hispanics, Afro-Americans or Asians. Muslims are 26% of the world's population today; by 2014, they will be 30%. That same year, two-thirds of the world's population will be Asian."

Asked for examples of successful global marketing, Sorrell unblushingly cited five of WPP's own clients (IBM, De Beers, BP, Shell, Dove shampoo) – plus Vodafone, a McCann-Erickson client, for good measure. "They've done advertising with strong creative ideas which have been well-executed on a global scale ... or where necessary, [have taken account] of different executions locally

Unsuccessful examples? Sir Martin tactfully ducked the question. While to the perennial query, when will the sun shine on the global ad economy, he gave his perennial answer. "Next year".

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff