Branding a multicultural organization depends on universal truths

During the ‘cola wars’ between Coke & Pepsi in the eighties, Pepsi launched a campaign dubbed ‘the choice of a new generation’. Unfortunately when translated to Chinese the same campaign tagline said ‘bring your ancestors back from the dead with Pepsi’. History is full of stories that highlight the challenges international brands face when creating unified campaigns that deliver the same message across multiple cultures.

It ultimately comes down to mining insights in each region and understanding the cultural nuances and how they relate with the brand’s objectives and values. Religion has taught us that there are universal truths that reside in all of us irrespective of language, background or tradition and from these we can create conversations from a common stand point which are meaningful to all.

We’ve been involved in the Rotary International brand strengthening project for some years now and have faced the challenge of refining our brand pillars across the world. The organization has existed for 112 years with members in over 200 countries and an endowment fund worth USD 1 billion for community investment. It has a common mission that has been getting harder to describe over the years.

Because Rotary recognizes its members by their vocations I’ve been called upon for my skills in advertising, and I feel privileged for the opportunity to use my knowledge and expertise in a worthy cause and to learn from other Rotarians who have joined the brand strengthening effort. In this we bring not only our skills, but the perspectives and insights from our own regions that will add to developing meaningful brand messages that have an impact globally.

Over the past century our mindset has shifted from one based on the fact that good work speaks for itself which, in this day and age, is similar to winking at a girl in the dark. There are so many activities competing for peoples time and attention and therefore it is necessary to ensure that Rotary has enough brand visibility to increase awareness and drive consideration for joining.

Research shows that our brand awareness is increasing following the Strengthening Rotary campaign that created a storytelling platform and enhanced our ability to share personal experiences which defined the benefits of being a member. Coca-Cola, P&G, BMW and other international brands have millions of dollars to spend on advertising, which we don’t because our funds go directly into charity projects that assist needy communities around the world. However, we have 1.2 million members and we can utilize their voices to tell our story effectively.

The brand strengthening effort is bearing fruit and in the first six months of this Rotary year we have grown by over 13,000 new members. However the numbers are not growing equally across the world as some regions are growing while others are declining and thus the continued need to drive a universal advertising campaign that will appeal to a global audience and attract our target audience to be part of our effort to improve lives in communities everywhere.

Apart from properly defining the brand, improving our storytelling and our social media initiatives, we have enhanced the website to increase the effectiveness of that brand touchpoint because today you don’t exist if you can’t be found online. Once again the need for understanding the perspectives from multicultural audiences was critical to make the home page inviting and informative with the end goal in mind.

These organizational initiatives reach a wide set of people around the world and strongly support the brand advocacy from the members which, research shows, has the biggest impact on any brand campaign with regards to recruitment. The brand advocacy is effective when told from a personal perspective by someone that you know and who’s opinions you respect.

There are many marketing insights that commercial brands can gain from the efforts of non-profit organizations and the ongoing branding efforts of Rotary are a case in point. A new Rotary global advertising campaign will be launched in June 2017 that will be adapted to each region, translated into the worlds languages and aired on both traditional and new media.

Thomas Macaulay said that the only company that can make money without advertising is the mint, and this stands true for commercial brands and non-profits with regards to recruiting members and attracting donations for their causes.


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