Thursday, February 2, 2012

Culture: Advertising and the Same Big World

By Kristyn Mysker

When deciding whether or not I should participate in the Europe tour there were several influences, but culture was the only one that really sold me on the idea. I have been on a few cruises and each time I go I love seeing people of all different cultures coming together for one common purpose, vacation. It’s also interesting to see how even though most of the islands the ship goes to are part of the Caribbean, yet they all still maintain their own identity in some way. Having never been to Europe, I wondered if it would be the same. It was. But I also got more than I had asked for and was exposed to culture in ways that never crossed my mind.

Part of the program consisted of touring different media outlets. McCann-Erickson in Prague was our first stop. McCann-Erickson is the largest full service advertising agency in the world. Although the company has offices in several different locations around the world, the one in Prague has to do some things differently than others simply because of the Czech culture. In almost every advertising or marketing class I have taken, there is always a section taught about culture and the important role it plays when targeting audiences. However, I never truly thought about how even global brands have to change their advertising approach depending on where the product is being advertised. For example, in the United States crude and sexual humor is somewhat welcomed in advertisements, but in Prague, those advertisements are hardly seen. The Czech culture is pretty reserved because it contains the oldest society in Europe, in terms of age. Marriages and families are less common and people are less trusting. For an advertisement to be successful, it is imperative that these cultural characteristics be recognized.

I also made observations in regards to the news in Europe versus news in America. In my opinion, American news in a lot more sensationalized and dramatized. It digs into people’s personal lives more than it informs the public on the situation at hand. For example, some of the news we hear during presidential elections is about the personal lives of the candidates. With whom they're spending time, what they’ve done in the past, what their children are up to are topics discussed and not so much political issues and policies. A large part of European culture is respect. Europe, especially France, respects the personal lives of others and values privacy. In fact, in most instances, reporters aren’t even allowed to talk about the personal lives of the subjects in their stories. This caught many of us off guard and seemed absurd because we come from a place where we have to know anything and everything about people. Americans have more intimate relationships and in places like Prague people only have about 55 human contacts, which reflects on the culture and the content of news.

Seeing these differences was really interesting to me and I learned some new advertising concepts and ideas that I will take back with me to the Missouri School of Journalism. They will help me become a better writer and marketer and have showed me how to think deeper when tailoring advertisements or written communication to audiences. In the advertising aspect, this trip really proved to me the importance of culture and how it often is the root of advertisements, not just a part of them. Culture isn’t what audiences like; it’s why they like what they do. Understanding that point is crucial for success.

I must say that my favorite cultural experience was at the Vatican when we were visiting Rome. I went with a few friends to see the Pope speak from his bedroom window. I knew the place would be crowded, but what I saw truly blew me away. I only expected the crowd to be made up of some tourists and the rest Italians. I was very wrong. There were people from all over the world. Nuns and priests were making their first pilgrimages to the Vatican and several large groups from different countries came solely for the purpose of seeing the Pope. The experience was absolutely moving. It was amazing to me to see that these people from so many different backgrounds and cultures could still come together be part of an even greater culture. When the Pope began speaking, I was surprised by what I saw, yet again. Even though we were in Italy the Pope still acknowledge other visitors. He spoke in about five or six different languages, making sure to welcome and bless us all. 

To me, this is what culture is all about. We all may be different and be part of our own subcultures, but it’s the greater one that really unites us all. Europe and the Vatican showed me that. Europeans really do try to make people feel like they can come together. I don’t see that much in the United States. A perfect example of this is restaurant menus. One of the first things I noticed in Europe was that many restaurants had their menus written in four or five different languages. Many signs were in English as well. It really made me feel welcome and like they were excited to have me there. If you’re from a foreign country and visiting America, you better know English. Pride is never a bad thing, until it starts to make others feel like complete outsiders. Were we outsiders while in Europe? Yes, we were. But they made it much easier to adapt for the time we were there. I think people can learn a lot from experiencing what I did at the Vatican. It was eye opening and the Pope was able to expose the only culture that really matters. I’m not necessarily talking about a religious culture, but the bigger culture that we are all part of this world. We are all visitors at some point but that doesn’t mean the feeling of being at home should disappear during those moments.

I am so glad I decided to go on this trip. It was an experience I will always cherish and it brought me in touch with people I will never forget. There were many educational takeaways that will improve my work, but the real measure of success for me was what I was able to take away from witnessing culture on a deeper level. I will forever be touched by the experiences I had. I have a better understanding of people and a greater appreciation for other countries. I hope that tourists who come to the United States see and feel the same things that I saw and felt. And the next time I come in contact with someone from a foreign country, I will do what I can to make sure they feel welcomed in my country because we’re all part of the same big world.

Click here to contact Kristyn Mysker.

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