Connecting What!?

Posted on October 1, 2007


To make great communication – the kind that stops you in your tracks and sparks off a spontaneous emotional response that either alters or re-enforces the way you feel and think about something in a specific way – takes a lot of skill. But I think it takes almost as much skill, although of a different kind, to produce something as staid, bland and completely uninspiring as this Nokia N-series commercial. It puts me at a loss of words. And I’m not in a merciful mood today.

This commercial leaves me with a sense of emptiness and melancholy. A two-second introspective investigation tells me that this response is triggered by the profoundly contrived way in which some [supposed] industry colleagues have tried to make an emotional connection with me as a consumer by anthropomorphing a mobile phone through a series of clichéd vignettes. Who do they think I am? What do they think people of this world are like? I wonder if they’ve ever met real people. Maybe in their childhood they did, before they joined Adland.

Wieden + Kennedy, who will take the global, creative lead for Nokia from now on, have a formidable task in front of them by getting a great brand back on track creatively on a global scale. It’s not that they have a broken brand to mend, far from it, but they certainly have to do a lot better than this.

Nokia is one of those global companies that worship almost fanatically at the church of consistency, not just in terms of a core brand idea [which is fine] but in terms of execution as well. It’s easier that way. A friend of mine tells me that until fairly recently, they insisted that Norwegian creative teams be put on the account in Bates’ offices around the world, since they believed this would help ensure consistency of creative work for the [then] Oslo-led account. I don’t know whether this is completely true to be honest. But it doesn’t really matter. What’s true and clearly evident is that ‘global consistency above all else’ has been the managerial parole. And I can’t help but feel that local relevancy has been overlooked as a result.

So how shall W+K help connect and re-connect Nokia to people around the world? A good start would be to send people out from its London office to the four corners of the world to unlearn about their British or American advertising lives and begin to approach things the way Nokia’s customers do it…the majority of them that is. After all, most of them have never heard of neither turkey stuffing nor Yorkshire pudding. They don’t know who Mr. Rogers is and they probably believe Monty Python is a Serpentarium.

I know for a fact that the Chinese, the Indians, the Arabs and the South Americans aren’t going to change their lives and their perspectives on it based on what ad people in London think and do.

Getting a grip on cultural differences and their implications on brands can be quite tricky. Especially for global companies to which process, not creative output, seems to have become an end in and by itself.

Conveying brand values across cultures, which I’ve previously posted on, can subsequently be very complicated indeed. Language barriers don’t make it any easier either.  In collectivist China, for example, “Connecting People” has been a cultural platitude for generations. Consumers in Chinese and other Asian Confucian cultures are unlikely to respond in the same positive way a Western person [accustomed to individualism and becoming more aware of interpersonal relationships] would. Nokia may have learned this in China some years ago. The line ‘Connecting People’ in Chinese read: ‘Chenggong zaiyu lianxi’ and literally means, ‘success is because of connecting’. A translation that takes the brand into quite a different area.

When Nokia was pushing for “Human Technology”, the Chinese line read: ‘Keji yi ren wei ben’. This can be translated as, ‘Science and technology depend on human beings”, which again is a bit of a leap from the global platform. However, I suspect these were ‘accidental’ language adaptations, as neither of the examples above seem particularly clever or resonant in Chinese either.

It shall be extremely interesting to see what W+K’s will do with Nokia. My expectations are quite high. But whatever they do, I hope they approach the task with a view and realization that the Anglo-Saxon cultural perspective on communication is not representative for a vast majority of Nokia’s customers and potential customers of this world. To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m borrowing a print ad from The Economist’s new campaign [which I really like].



Posted in: Planning-related