We Europeans

While many Eurocrats and consumer goods marketers would like to believe that the Single Market is indeed single, the reality on the ground looks very different. Going from north to south in Western Europe we pass from one consumer zone to another. In beds, it’s from singles to doubles. In cooking, it’s from butter/margarine to vegetable oils. In drinking, it’s from beer/white liquor to wine/anis-type drinks. Even the so-called ‘universal language of flowers’ is anything but universal,

Then there are startling exceptions to the rule. The Finns are great consumers of ice cream, even in the depths of winter, and far from being totally addicted to ‘Koskenkorva’ are great ones for cognac. Tastes can also differ even within a small country like Belgium: on coffee the two communities, and even individual towns, have vastly varying preferences.

Fanta is one of the most universally recognised brands yet the product is different wherever you go, sometimes because of taste preferences, sometimes of course because of restrictions on additives and colorants. It has certainly escaped no one’s attention that Coca-Cola has openly nailed the ‘Think Global Act Local’ flag to its masthead. Few companies have Mars’ courage to change all their products to a single name – goodbye ‘Raider’, hello ‘Twix’, etc.

A market leader that adopts the opposite strategy to Coca-Cola is Procter & Gamble. It has the same product, the same formula, right across the region for each of its detergent brands, but is still conscious of national preferences. The Dutch are keen on compact tablet-type detergents, while the Belgians stick with traditional powders.

Of course the ‘made in’ factor can’t be ignored. In domestic appliances the Swiss have attempted to keep imports out by standardising on modules five centimeters less than the rest of Europe. For other reasons the French have traditionally opted for top-loaded washing machines, where most of the rest of Europe goes for front-loaders.

National character can come in useful by deliberately associating a brand with a country’s traditions. This has been done very successfully by the Swiss watch industry, by the Aral petroleum brand (majoring on clean Germanic dark-blue colours) and by ‘Nutrogena’ skin-cream which proudly displays the Norwegian flag.

Equally – and with far less reason – just being foreign can propel a brand to a higher level of desirability. There is a curious snobbishness about imported products that would be regarded as ordinary in their own country: Belgian ‘Tuc’ biscuits and ‘Stella’ beer in Britain for example and, vice versa, British ‘Peek Frean’ biscuits and ‘Crosse & Blackwell’ sauce in Belgium. ‘Barilla’, a medium-range pasta in Italy, is sold as an upmarket product elsewhere.

For international marketers, the differences can also be caused by what is called the ‘prism effect’: the different perceptions of the same brand due to divergences in the social and physical environment, language, media availability, communication styles and the like.

It seems that, for the present, ‘glocalisation’ is still the name of the European marketing game.

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