Global Marketing Is Messy, And Organizations Must Adapt

When Unilever launched its "Dirt Is Good" campaign, the company probably imagined parents like myself breathing a sigh of relief as we learned to love our children's mess. However, the tagline has a double meaning. To my mind, "Dirt Is Good" perfectly summarises the chaos that is global marketing — mess that can be as puzzling as a finger painting, and just as satisfying.

With the "Dirt Is Good" tagline, Unilever actually supported four different brands of laundry detergent: Persil, Skip, Via and Omo. To complicate matters further, these brands occupied different positions in different markets. Take Omo, for example: it's a premium brand in Brazil; a second tier brand in Australia, France, and South Africa; and no longer sold in Britain, Ireland, or New Zealand, where Unilever promotes Persil as its premium brand instead. Compare this to Marketing MBA Fantasy Land, where the perfect tagline falls out of the brand architecture, which aligns with the product offer and the product's corresponding position in the market.

Global marketing is one big mess, and the CMOs who win will be those who Create An Adaptive Global Organization, to borrow a phrase from my latest report. In other words, CMOs must create a global marketing team that uses data and customer insight to learn, adapt, and grow in real time, anywhere in the world.

Creating such a team is no mean feat. The keys to success relate to the global context in which you practice marketing. One such context is when global brands serve global buyers, like the consumers who buy Levi's jeans. Another is when global brands find that most of their marketing is local, like the Aussies who buy Vegemite from the global company Kraft. And the third context is when global and local pressures collide. This is the situation that Unilever met head-on when it declared that "Dirt Is Good", eerily describing the situation they faced as marketers, as well as the reality of life as a parent.