Oreo Wanted a Global Brand: Learn from their mistakes

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An Oreo ad for the birth of a royal baby

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 plan to launch a global brand. So what did Oreo do wrong, and how can you get it right?

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.

After nine years in China, 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.

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A Chinese Oreo ad

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? Chinese people don’t eat cookies. I’d hate to see how many millions were lost in this act of arrogance.

How You Can Create a Global Brand

The Oreo team did learn from this mishap, and we can too. Oreo now even holds 30% of India’s cookie market.

So what did they do?

Upfront Market Research

I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it took Oreo nine years to do this. 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.

Create Product Variations

The Chinese people do have a sweet-tooth, so there was a market, just not for the US Oreo. The core cookie recipe was tweaked, and new products introduced. Wafers, chic-dipped and green tea flavors are sold in China. Taste tests in India resulted in a sweeter cookie.

Glocalization

Along with creating product variations, the advertising was glocalized. The brand’s imagery, logo and “twist, lick and dunk” concept stayed, but ads were reshot for different markets. 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 teach the concept. The tagline of America’s Favorite Cookie was also modified for the global audience who discover that Oreos are milk’s favorite cookie.

There are very few brands with a true global brand. There are more, like Oreo, which use glocalization for a hybrid global brand. Making a global brand is no different than any other marketing. Identify your audience and craft the product and messaging to them.

This blog post is based on a paper I wrote for my Masters class in globalization this semester. It’s a 2,500-word academic piece so rather dry and detailed. It’s here if you want to read it. I’ve left most of the references in that document too.

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