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Concept drift
Why ideas don’t always meet across
markets
June 2004
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What is concept drift?
• Say a UK brand stands for ‘indulgence’
• When researching outside UK/US, country by country, the
idea of indulgence starts to deteriorate, is amended,
reduced, manipulated, fragmented
• It’s easy to come out with a qualified, impoverished
positioning
How can research enrich rather than impoverish
international concept development?
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A key factor:
‘Languages are not mere collections of labels attached to preexisting bits and pieces of the human world but each speech
community lives in a different world from that of others and
these differences are both realised in parts of their cultures and
revealed and maintained in parts of their languages.’
R.H. Robins, Professor of General Linguistics, University of London
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What does this mean?
• Speech communities experience the world differently
from each other
• They conceptualise/segment experiences and ideas
differently
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An example concept
Savour
Reward
Treat
Sophisticated
Unnecessary
Spoiling
INDULGENCE
(English)
Guilt
Excess
Masochism
Sensual
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English Indulgence
Savour
Reward
Treat Sophisticated
Unnecessary
INDULGENCESensual
Spoiling (English)
Guilt
Excess
• The word exists in French, Italian and Spanish
but it means religious forgiveness (Catholic)
or lenience
• The concept doesn’t exist in the same form
The Spanish certainly have ‘treats’
But do they feel guilty about them? No!
Masochism
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Definitions and roles
• A concept is an identifiable, cohesive bunch of associations
• Words are labels for these bunches of associations
To help us refer to that bunch of associations
To help us communicate ideas to others
To enable us to assess experiences and ideas in terms of it
To help us think and understand our world
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Thought and language develop in tandem
Word
Recognisable,
identifiable thought
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If people don’t have the ‘word’…
….they may not have the ‘concept’
No current translation of the word…
They recognise
the concept?
They don’t recognise
the concept,
but can be helped to do so?
They can’t appreciate
the concept?
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Universal concepts have direct translations
Neko = Gat = Cat = Chat = Katze = Catt = Koc˘ka
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But some concepts are less universal
Logam
Piropos
Zabíjacka
Sarariman
?
Tertulia
Schadenfreude
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Some don’t really exist in our culture:
• Piropos (Spanish): compliments whispered to women by
passing men of all ages
We don’t do it
• Zabíjacka (Czech): ‘Slaughter Party’
We don’t have it
• Logam (Swedish): desirable quality of not being extreme
(but not ostensibly moderate either!)
We don’t experience it
• Sarariman (Japanese): executive in large company
(security, respectability, conformity)
We don’t value it in the way they do
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Others we know, but don’t consciously recognise
• Tertulia (Spanish): elderly men gathering informally in a
bar for a game of dominoes and gossip about local affairs
We have it but don’t see it as a concept so don’t need a word
• Schadenfreude (German): the enjoyment of someone
else’s discomfort
We recognise the concept, we’ve borrowed the word
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Some are related, but don’t match precisely
Positive
Petits Plaisirs Egoistes
?
Showing Off
Outer
The Most
Expensive
Small
Exquisite
Perfection
Sophisticated
Savour
Reward
Genuß
Sensual
Unnecessary Treat
Connoisseur
INDULGENCE
The Good Life
Guilt
Spoiling
Excess
Masochism
Exploit
Abuse
Incorrect Use
Abus
Negative
Inner
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Why is this important?
• It has implications for giving brand concepts meaning
across borders
And therefore also for creative executions/campaigns
• Because it helps us understand what kind of spaces
ideas occupy in people’s minds
What kinds of reference points are being used
• And because it suggests we might benefit from going
about international concept development in a different
way
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Negotiating concept drift
• Start as early as possible in the process
• It’s hard on idea development teams to be given a oneculture brief for a multi-country project….
And then see their work used as international cannon fodder
• Ideally the process of mapping the possibilities starts as
soon as the overall strategy is identified
• Eg. a car brand wants to own the concept of ‘solid’
Perhaps translated as ‘fest’ in German, ‘robuste’ in French
A visual thesaurus helps start the process of articulating the
richest territory to explore across markets
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balance equanimity
constant
authentic
resolute
well-founded
stable
substantial
complete
sturdy
clear
brave
certain
strong
honest
firm
stalwart
true
coherent
compact
real
Solid
dense
exact
tough
three-dimensional
tangible
definite
integrity
robust
deep
healthy
convincing
profound
persuasive
obstinate
character
quality
effective
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Need to look at negatives too
unhealthy
poor
superficial
puny
unsatisfactory
spineless
thin
makeshift
breakable
temporary
frail
flimsy
false
delicate
substitute
fragile
ineffectual
impotent
weak
unsubstantial
feeble
wobbly
faltering
fine
insecure
tender
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KLM’s long-standing strapline in Dutch
lasting
personal
reliable
familiar
loyal
promise
faith
well-known
safety
trust
affection
Betrouwbaar
dedicated
confidence
assurance
mission
active
credentials
aplomb
The English version ‘the reliable airline’ is not wrong,
but it’s missing quite a lot!
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Stimulus materials can enrich this process
• E.g. ask respondents to think of a ‘solid’ item in advance
of the research
• Lists of ‘solid’ people, brands etc. as prompts
• Words on boards for mapping
To be added to in groups by respondents
• Magazines for imagery tear sheets
• Ads that portray solidity
• Solid brands on cards for mapping the territory
• Brand pictures, stories, facts, claims…to bring it down to
earth and connect it to the key messages
Probe creative as well as market context
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Making the most of the whole project team
Proposal
Set-up
Stimulus
Field
Analyse
Interpret
Our idea driven, ‘dynamic synthesis’ approach makes the most of
GRAVITY insight and team expertise.
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Outcome Will Depend on Marketing Needs
• Creating new brands and re-launching dormant ones
more freedom to search for ‘one’ solution
aiming for a concept which is consciously recognised in all markets
• Launching an established brand in new markets
already have an anchor-point,
find concepts/identities which are closest to the fixed point
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Many possible outcomes
•
A common concept in all markets - the grail solution!
•
A common concept but some markets need explanation/heavy cues
we’ll know exactly what parts are common
we’ll know exactly what cues are needed
Separate but related concepts
We’ll know how they are separate and how they are related
•
•
We’ll know what this means for the brand in all the markets
We’ll know the implications for the advertising
Separate concepts
We’ll know why
We’ll know the manifestations of these
We’ll know the implications for the brand and the advertising
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Summing Up
• Differences in the way languages work reflect differences
in the way different communities experience their worlds
Those who speak differently, think differently
• Concepts can return from international research
compromised or impoverished if we don’t plan ahead
• Concept drift thinking can help by broadening the
understanding of concepts for exploration across markets
• Allowing us to identify deeper, clearer, and more
motivating concepts