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How Global Brands Make A Local Connection

How Global Brands Make A Local Connection

Robyn de Villiers

BWC Burson Cohn & Wolfe

BCW Chairman and CEO


The phrase ‘think global, act local’ is often bandied around when it comes to discussions about “glocalization.” The problem with that is the lack of emphasis on ‘thinking’ at the local level, it’s not just about acting locally to implement a global strategy. A whole lot of intelligence, insight, and understanding goes into transferring a global brand offering to a local market in a way that is relevant, relatable, and resonant.  

To establish a real local connection, here are five brand building action points for global entities wanting to grow their brands in South Africa (and other markets across Africa):

  1. Have a business model that allows flexibility

A decentralized business model must be at the top of the list.  In the words of Tom Peters, global brands must “loosen the reins, to allow a thousand flowers to bloom.” A good example is Pernod Ricard, the French based provider of leading spirits brands like Jameson, Absolut and Ballantine’s. The company’s decentralized strategy allows its large footprint of operations around the world the freedom to implement initiatives that are primarily local but still connected with the Group’s global priorities.

  1. Find local ways to manifest global concepts

In communications with consumers, two scenarios exist – a campaign can connect locally but lose its global connection or it can stay true to global origins and risk seeming irrelevant to local consumers. Somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot that leaves room to interpret a global strategy in a way that resonates locally. Absolut vodka’s global strategy “Creativity for Progress” has been brought to life in South Africa through the One Source Live festival which celebrates African creativity - spanning music, fashion, art and photography.

In choosing ambassadors for local campaigns, global brands must be conscious of credibility. Paid endorsements are quickly discerned by consumers if they lack authenticity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a global ambassador in a local market. G.H. Mumm champagne recently announced the special appointment of Usain Bolt as its newest CEO (Chief Entertainment Officer). Bolt is tasked with finding “energetic and daring ways” to bring celebrations to consumers all over the world, including South Africa. As a sporting hero people universally look up to him.        

  1. Be seen to “give back”

Explore ways of leveraging the power of the global entity to enrich lives at a local level. Pernod Ricard has global properties such as the Ballantine’s Boiler Room - a series of live broadcast events featuring past, present and future music legends. For the South African events, Pernod Ricard’s marketing team had influence over the choice of artists that were involved. This has really helped in discovering and uplifting local talent –consumers notice and welcome this.

  1. Adapt global ways of working

The old adage says, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Be prepared to adapt global ways of working to local market situations. In South Africa this involves a very specific approach to working with talent.  For FMCG companies like Pernod Ricard it also means choosing supply solutions that will benefit locals, such as sourcing local product and adapting distribution models to include a more informal sector.

  1. Use local expertise to guide you

Partner with local experts with in-depth understanding of the market and the ability to both strategize relevant and relatable campaigns, and to implement them on the ground with sensitivity.  

With real focus on connection, global brands can soar in local markets. No better example is the success of Jameson in South Africa. The global brand has established deeply trusted premium brand credentials in the local market. This now makes South Africa the second biggest market for the whisky brand behind the USA.




Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW) is one of the 3 top three largest PR firms resulting from the recent merger of WPP agencies Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe.  With 25+ years of assisting global companies grow their brands across Africa BCW has an unparalleled network of affiliate and partner agencies in 52 of the 54 African countries and deep expertise in digital and integrated communications, across all industry sectors.