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Thursday, September 10, 2015

American Marketing Arrogance

Last year, I took a great trip through Italy and, after other family members went back to work, my wife and I headed for Venice. It was in May prior to tourist season so the weather was great but the crowds were not oppressive.

One day after breakfast, we strolled from the hotel and were headed for a vaporetto (water taxi). As we passed a bakery, we stopped and decided which of the luscious treats that we might buy. In the bakery, I spotted a distinguished looking man holding court with a few cronies. Imperially trim, he had on a perfectly cut Milanese suit and a shirt with the distinctive Turnbull & Asser collar that I can spot from a mile away. Also, in one hand he had an Italian pastry and, in the other a flute of prosecco. To myself, I thought, that guy knows how to live. It was about 10:45 in the morning.

The next day we passed the same bakery at roughly the same time and saw him again with two new companions. He was impeccably turned out and was also again munching on a sweet and had a prosecco in hand as well. The following morning we had to leave the unique floating city but passed by the bakery on the way to the vaporetto to take us back to our rental car. He was not there and I assumed he was stuck in a boring meeting as many of us are apt to be at 11 am. As our vaporetto was taking off, I saw the Dapper Dan hop on to the back of the water bus. He was carrying a slim attache case and seem to know several people on board and engaged in some very animated conversations punctuated by lots of laughter. A few stops later I looked up and noticed that he was gone.

I found it striking in many ways. It is a big world out there with about 7.1 billion people. Of the 200 countries on earth, each has a distinct culture. And, within many countries there are unique places such as Venice and unusual individuals such as the mystery man I have described.

Americans can learn something from this. No, I am not going to say that we waste our lives chasing money or conforming to corporate straightjackets. It is simply that as marketers we must step outside ourselves as Americans and remember that few people think, act or live as we do. There are many paths up the mountain to happiness. This is a huge advantage from my viewpoint that the advertising holding companies have over domestic shops. They have seasoned people on the ground all over the globe. These pros are familiar with local likes, dislikes and taboos. I recently had a conversation with a marketer who said that he was going to roll his successful US advertising campaign to 22 countries next year. He felt customizing it locally was an unnecessary expenditure. When I used my Venetian lawyer (financier, realtor, playboy?) as an example of how others think and live differently, he said, “The guy sounds like a drunk to me if he is drinking that soon in the day.” I wish my acquaintance well but his type of American marketing arrogance usually ends badly.

It is a big world out there. Take note, adapt to it, and revel in it!

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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