You’ve probably heard of green tea Oreo cookies. What about choc-dipped ones? These are both flavors developed by America’s favorite cookie after they crashed and burned on their original strategy launching a global marketing brand. So what did Oreo do wrong, and how can you get it right?
This article is based on a paper I wrote for RMIT University in 2005 on global brand marketing strategies. If you want to read the full 2,500 words (plus references), here’s a PDF copy.
What Did Oreo Do?
Despite launching in 1912, Oreo didn’t try creating a global brand until the late 1990s when they entered China. The cookies were available in more than 30 countries, but this was little more than wholesale transactions to get stock on shelves.
The Chinese launch was with a true global brand. The US product, brand imagery, and copy was used, just translated. This was their first big, intentional globalization move, with India in their sights and they hit it hard with a global standardized brand strategy.
After nine years in China, however, the Oreo brand wasn’t really feeling the love. It was plodding along OK, but nowhere near the naive expectation it would perform similarly to US levels.
Oreo was close to pulling out of China when someone decided to do a little market research. Yep, you read that correct. Oreo entered a massive, culturally different market without doing any market research. And then they operated for NINE years without any analysis. I know it was the 90s and marketers were still a tad number-phobic, and they had a couple of parent company changes, but still – NINE YEARS. And guess what they discovered when Oreo conducted the market research? Chinese people don’t eat cookies. I’d hate to see how many millions were lost in this act of naivety.
How You Can Create a Global Brand Strategy
The Oreo team did learn from this mishap, and we can too. Oreo now even holds 30% of India’s cookie market.
So how did Oreo fix it and develop a global brand?
Upfront Market Research
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it took Oreo nine years to do market research. I admit I keep stressing the nine years, but that’s because … well, if anyone did this now they don’t deserve to be employed. But, being fair, after what is a brand-killer move for many, Oreo learnt their lesson. Now Oreo researches each new market before entering, which leads to the next points.
Create Product Variations
What Oreo learned in the market research is the Chinese people do have a sweet-tooth, so there was a market, just not for the original Oreo cookie. The core cookie recipe was tweaked, and new products introduced. Wafers, choc-dipped and green tea flavors are now sold in China. Taste tests in India resulted in a sweeter cookie. The original cookie has a sweeter filling and a slightly bitter chocolate cookie.
Along with creating product variations, the advertising was glocalized (global brand with tweaks for each geographic market). Oreo’s brand imagery, logo and “twist, lick and dunk” concept stayed, but ads were reshot for different markets. For you and your brand, this is where you can test and see what works. The US TVCs worked very well in Australia, but new versions with Australian actors worked even better. In China, the ads featured children teaching their parents how to twist, lick and dunk, to sharing the Oreo brand concept. The tagline “America’s Favorite Cookie” was also modified for the global audience who are told that Oreos are milk’s favorite cookie.
Is Oreo A Global Brand?
There are very few brands with a true global brand. The glocalization does make Oreo more of a hybrid global brand. It has been true with the brand promise and after the stumbles, Oreo discovered the brand promise is understood differently in each culture. However, making a global brand is no different than any other marketing. Identify your audience and craft the product and messaging to them. Just like Oreo had success making a reasonably standardized global brand.