The Airbrushing of Culture: An Insider Looks At Global Advertising
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The Airbrushing of Culture:
An Insider Looks At Global Advertising
William M. O'Barr Interviews Marcio M. Moreira

In 1987, I was granted an internship by the Advertising Educational Foundation. The Foundation’s stated purpose is the promotion of a greater understanding of the advertising industry on college campuses through the sending of guest speakers (which it calls ambassadors) and through the placement of professors in internships in advertising. I asked to be assigned to McCann-Erickson International. The AEF was able to arrange the internship for the summer of 1987.

This was the context of my meeting with Marcio Moreira, the creative team leader and director for Coca-Cola International Advertising. Our first meeting, scheduled for Wednesday of my second-week in New York, had to be postponed at the last minute. When we finally met on Thursday, I knew that I was talking to the mover and thinker behind the commercials I had seen.

I gained greater insight into international advertising and global culture by talking with Marcio than I had with the dozen or so others who had proceeded him. But I had only my notes as a record of what we had discussed. Over lunch in 1988, 1 raised the possibility of collaborating on a piece about global advertising to report some of what I had learned. I hit upon the idea of a series of interviews that we could tape-record and edit together for publication. I would retain the conventional role of anthropologist by interpreting through the questions I asked and my shaping of the interview topics. Marcio would be my informant. The culture would be that of the world.

The following exchange is a portion of the interviews conducted at his office in midtown Manhattan and at his home in a New Jersey suburb. Each of us has edited the original spoken words toward the goal of turning our talk into a more readable and polished account.

WMO:

What I’d like to do today is to talk about Coke advertising and to focus on it in its international context in places like Japan, the Middle East, and Africa-places where local conditions require that it be special or different. I’d like to begin with the question that those of us on the outside looking in at advertising want an answer to: How do you advertise Coca-Cola globally so that it seems to be the same to people everywhere? Can a single advertisement do this?

MM:

There are some assumptions or some statements that I need to make up front that will color everything else I’ll be saying. The first one is that the most important thing to understand about Coca-Cola’s advertising is: it’s more important to communicate a common viewpoint than to use a common execution.

WMO:

Is this the idea of ‘thinking globally, executing locally’?

MM:

Correct. A lot of people have the misconception that the reason Coca-Cola does what it does, is because it saves them money because they use the same commercial over and over again.

WMO:

Yes, people do think that. They really do.

MM:

They do. And that is a major mistake. Obviously, if you’re going to go out and spend a million dollars producing a commercial, which is not difficult to do these days, and you can use it in many places (if the commercial travels well), you’re going to do it. But only if it’s appropriate. If it’s inappropriate, you should never do it; and Coca-Cola never does it. So the motivation is to have a common idiom, but not necessarily the same look.

WMO:

But if I can interject-the further question is that Coke does seem to mean the same thing all over the world. Is that because of the innate characteristics of what it is and who people are?

MM:

Yes. I will get to that. I just wanted to make sure that people understood that first point. The second point, which I think is fundamental for people to understand, is that McCann is a consequence of Coca-Cola’s thinking. Over time, I think McCann has fed back some...