The sociologist Roland Robertson popularised the term ‘glocalisation’ - a linguistic hybrid of globalisation and localisation - in 1995. This tongue twisting-term captures the tailoring and advertising of goods and services on a global or near-global basis to increasingly differentiated local and particular markets. To demonstrate his remarkable foresight (back then) Robertson identified that the proliferation of 'ethnic' supermarkets in California and elsewhere “does to a large extent cater for the desire for the familiar and nostalgic wishes”.

Robertson passed away at the fine age of 84 in April last year, but his theory of Glocalisation is about to get a second life at MAD//Fest this year. I’ll be giving a keynote crash course in my London School of Economics paper, co-authored with Chris Dalla Riva, we ex//plore the ‘Glocalisation’ of Music Streaming within and across Europe’. The results are already transforming music, as we’re learning the world isn't flat after all: more and more local acts top their local charts in their local language - contrary to what the theory of globalisation would have predicted. 

To summarise a study with ad-length conciseness, we looked at ten European countries, and uncovered clear evidence of glocalisation taking place on global streaming platforms - something we didn’t see in the past with local retailers, nor linear broadcasters of radio and television. In this teaser chart below, you can see how the top ten charts are dominated by local artists in larger European countries. For those who didn’t feel the same headwinds, there are twists and turns to explore: Spanish language dominates the Spanish charts but they’re all Latin acts; ditto Portugal and Brazil.   

Glocalisation changes everything. For creators, consumers, and companies alike, one can envisage a flywheel effect where more domestic success by creators begets more domestic investment by global labels, which in turn drives more demand from consumers. This is to be broadly welcomed but spare a thought for English-speaking markets who traditionally had a comparative advantage in exporting their music abroad. Thanks to the success of glocalisation, they are now struggling to get their English-language repertoire heard overseas. Britain, one of only three music exporters in the world (the others being the US and Sweden) used to knock out global stars every year. Arguably, we haven’t produced one since Dua Lipa in 2017. Think about that! 

Why is this happening? The evidence points to a growing marketplace where power has been devolved from global record labels and streaming platforms to their local offices and from old linear broadcast models to new models of streaming which empower consumers with choice. This challenges the borders that define markets: perhaps songs and artists are increasingly local, but genres are increasingly global. The Polish chart is all Polish (and in Polish) but they’re largely performing Hip Hop which is an American genre. Put another way, global superstars no longer ‘own’ the genre that they represent – anyone anywhere can perform in said genre style, or in hybrids. Nor do broadcasters own what consumers get to hear. Increasingly, it seems, playlists are without borders and consumers are broadcasters. 

So why does this matter to MAD//Fest? Music matters because it always gets disrupted first. As I set out in my book Pivot, it was the first to suffer from piracy at the turn of the millennium, and the first to recover from streaming ten years on. It’s always been a bellwether for change and glocalisation is no different. We’re seeing it in video with Netflix investing more and more in local language content, and we’re seeing it in society too. Steve Boom, VP of Audio, Twitch and Games at Amazon makes a pertinent point in our paper: “as we become more global, we are also becoming more tribal”. 

This brings us back like a boomerang to MAD//Fest's world of advertising and marketing. 

Ralph Simon, Founder and Chief Executive of Mobilium Global, notes that it won’t just be the global media companies that will need to reposition and reallocate critical creative resources away from their global HQ’s to their local operating territories due to the ‘unyielding effects across the board of glocalisation’. Simon argues, “The deep and pertinent worlds of branding and targeted marketing will feel the same headwinds”. This merits consideration. Recall Say's Law, which states that supply creates its own demand: if those global marketing-and branding budgets are supplied to local offices, demand for local content will only increase


Will Page is the author of Pivot: Eight Principles for Transforming your Business in a Time of Disruption and the former Chief Economist of Spotify. He will be joined by Ralph Simon and presenting Glocalisaiton at MAD//Fest, 12 noon on Wednesday 4 July. Free cocktails are served immediately afterwards - not before! 

Listen to Will's 'Believe In Humanity DJ mix' featuring Carole King, Billy Paul,Sister Sledge, KAYTRANADA & Anderson Paak and Tom Waits x Dj Amir Pery.