On a long flight back from a worldwide advertising meeting Matthew Dodds was frustrated. He was helping Exxon work through worldwide branding issues, and had a say as a representative of the Asia Pacific region. In meeting after meeting "The Role of the Tiger in Esso Advertising" was being debated on a worldwide basis.
Not unusually, the marketing environment in the US was driving marketing decisions around the world. Exxon wanted a truly global promise, which, admittedly, was laudable enough in its conception. The only inconvenience was that the world isn't a homogenized place, with similar marketing issues and consumer needs throughout the globe.
Take Vietnam. There, as in many developing countries, it's not unusual for gas to be sold out of glass bottles by the side of the road to passing motorcyclists. Legislation dictating that octane content of gas be marked and measured at the point of sale has not yet been enacted. (For that matter, neither has the rule of law). Hence, the quality of the gas itself is the critical point of attack for the brand. With "Put a Tiger in Your Tank", Esso has a tried-and-true tagline from its US heyday that remains a meaningful and differentiating promise for the brand. Sadly, it would not be utilized.
Back in developed markets such as the US and UK, octane legislation has had the unintentional effect of turning gas into a highly commoditized product. People rightly perceive there to be little to no difference between gasoline brands, and the point of differentiation is now little more than the price at any given pump. In response, markets such as the UK have had success in making the tiger -- more specifically, the tiger's eyes -- a symbol for a "price watch" campaign, where Esso is promoted as vigilantly watching and matching competitive pricing offers. To our founder, this was a nicely executed tactical use of an established equity to respond to a changing marketing environment. Yet the US was unimpressed; a globally consistent approach was needed.
Our founder felt that the worldwide marketing committee was making a critical mistake. Instead of looking for one singular role for Esso's tiger worldwide, the committee should be looking for one mutually agreed upon brand equity progression. An examination of worldwide marketing issues already showed a clear progression existed across the globe. Therefore, as local markets developed, the "Role of the Tiger" should be free to evolve along with local market circumstances. Local markets could be grouped on a worldwide basis into tiers along developmental lines. Vietnam could learn a lot from Peru. What was happening in Poland could be seen as relevant to what was happening in Thailand. In this way, the core idea for Brandthropology® was born. It broke the traditional mold by creating a new approach to marketing administration; one that stressed developmentally based spheres of influence rather than the more traditionally used geographically based spheres of influence [i.e., Asia Pacific, Latin America, etc.].
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