Friday, February 17, 2012

Advertising in Europe: How History and Culture Come Into Play

By Nicole Parker

McCann-Erickson in Prague is one of, if not the, most successful advertising agencies in the Czech Republic. As a part of the global advertising network in over 120 countries, McCann is the most commercially successful agency in the Czech Republic - with an abundance of Effie awards!

McCann Erickson is a very well-known and respected global agency, and I was excited to visit their office in Prague on the Europe trip since I first found out it was one of our many media visits! As a journalism major emphasizing in strategic communication, I plan on going into the advertising world on the account side and I love visiting agencies, discovering how they function and learning about their work. Another passion of mine is traveling and learning about different cultures. One of my goals for after graduation is to work at advertising agency in another country, so that I can combine these two things. I was hoping that the visit to McCann would provide some insights to advertising abroad, and after the visit I am even more excited about working in advertising here in the United States and abroad!

Prague was the first city in our four-city trip, and McCann Erickson was our very first media visit. Walking up to the office, we saw the plaque outside with their credo: "Truth Well Told" (above). Ales Vyhlidal is a strategic planner at McCann who talked to our group about their office in Prague, “Czech-ness” and what makes famous Czech advertisements popular. Vyhlidal hammered in the fact that advertising that considers and focuses on cultural values is very successful. 

McCann believes that part of what makes their office so successful is how in-tune they are with the Czech culture. A lot of this is due to the fact that Czech citizens who understand the idea of “Czech-ness” have staffed McCann’s office since the introduction of advertising into the Czech Republic. This allowed the office to introduce local and international brands into the country in a way that would be received well by the population.

Vyhidal did a great job of giving us an overview of Czech history, how it relates to the country's culture and how it shows up in advertisements. He explained research that McCann had done on the lifestyles and values of citizens of the Czech Republic, which were proportionally different than the values of Americans. We learned a lot about what values are important to many Czechs, which includes their family and close friends. Nostalgia is also important to many Czechs, and a lot of advertising in the Czech Republic focuses on it.

Viewing so many different advertisements that were famous in the Czech Republic, I realized that a great part of today’s culture in the Czech Republic was directly linked to the country’s history. One of the many advertisements that we watched and talked about in our presentation was one for "Kofola." Kofola is a sugary soda that was produced in the Czech Republic while it was still part of the soviet union and products like Coca-Cola weren't allowed. After the Czech Republic gained independence, the brand resurfaced and used advertising to give the product a very nostalgic feel. This advertisement uses Czech countryside and the popular Czech past time "tramping," which is similar to camping. This activity became an incredibly popular escape during Soviet rule, and many Czechs hold fond memories related to these kinds of outdoor activities. Kofola focused in on this nostalgic feeling, and became very successful product. I don't think that the ad would've been successful for the same reasons in the United States, because of the major cultural differences and historical situation. Posted below is the Kofola advertisement we saw when visiting McCann Erickson in Prague.

After leaving McCann and the Czech Republic, I had the chance to observe advertising in three more European countries. I picked up on quite a few different advertisements with themes and characters that directly related to the different cultures and histories of France, Belgium and Italy. This got me thinking about the extent that unique cultures really do play in advertising, so I decided to seek out more examples of advertising for each country. Similar to those we saw at McCann, I found many examples of advertising that used different aspects of each country’s culture as a main part of their strategies. Here, I wanted to share with you some examples of what I observed of the histories of France, Belgium and Italy showing up in their advertising.


France has an incredibly rich historical background, one example being the different nation's different types of governments and rulers. Volkswagen ran a campaign focused on France's history and played off of this specific well-known historical aspect of the country in the following advertisement. 


This Italian advertisement for an espresso company uses two different historically significant elements in the following print ad. The background is the Colosseum, one of the many historical places we saw during our stop in Rome on our trip. The image of the woman and two children is the focus of the add and a take on the myth of Rome's beginnings. Legend has it that the founder of the city of Rome was raised by a she-wolf, along with his twin brother. The variation of the she-wolf and twins in the ad would easily be recognized by Italians because of the prominence of this legend.


During our visit to Belgium, we discovered that because of the historically common change in government and power their country's culture isn't quite as distinctive. Belgium itself has two different cultures (one in the North and one in the South), along with an overall European culture - it is the Capital of the EU after all. This became evident to me when I was looking for advertising that focused in on culturally significant events and didn't find near as many as I had for the other countries we visited. While watching television in the hotel in Brussels ont night, I saw the ad below. Instead of focusing on historically significant events or characters from Belgium, McDonald's ad uses the internationally well-known Mona Lisa.

During our trip to Europe we observed many different cultures, and although I don't think I understand any of them yet, I enjoyed them all. I tasted new foods, toured historical buildings, took part in some traditions and interacted with the different personalities of four amazing countries. This trip was such an enjoyable learning experience in so many different ways. I am mostly thankful for the foundation of cultural understanding that I can now build upon throughout my advertising career. 


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