Al-Qaeda or Las Vegas?

Al-Qaeda or Las Vegas?

By Paulo Octavio, Vice President of Reed Exhibitions Alcantara Machado

It’s incredible how the perception of people on exactly the same subject or fact can be completely different. It’s the story of the “half full or half empty glass”; in order for us to have a correct and considered opinion it all really does depend on our perception, on small nuances and insights and on our knowledge of cultures. Last week I had the opportunity to take part in the “Summer Conference” (annual convention) of the company I work for. This year it took place in Marrakesh, Morocco and was attended by people of 40 different nationalities; a mini Tower of Babel!

Talking over lunch with one of my American colleagues I asked him about his general impressions of the place; how are you finding Marrakesh? It was a simple question, casually asked to generate normal social interaction, but to my surprise his response was a mixture of a lack of geographic and cultural knowledge and a one-sided view of the world: airport disorganized, traffic chaotic, language incomprehensible, women walking around the streets wearing the burqa….. But a nice hotel (we were staying at the Four Seasons!). At dinner I had the opportunity to talk to my colleague from Saudi Arabia and I asked him the same question: and what about Marrakesh? His reply, however, totally altered the perception from lunch: what a pleasant climate; my direct flight from Jeddah arrived on time; it’s one of my favourite places for a vacation; Moroccan women are beautiful, etc. In other words: the same place but opposite perceptions.

So what must the men and women from the marketing area do so that people with such different points of reference have positive perceptions of brands? Is the same message going to function for all audiences? Obviously not!

Using the example of the Four Seasons Hotel brand…for the American the message is going to be valid if the arguments and adjectives used relate to safety, describe the hotel’s comfort attributes and its facilities and conjure up some climate of “ 1001 nights”. In other words: “We ‘protect’ you from Al-Qaeda” (which, by the way, has nothing to do with Morocco). For my friend from Saudi Arabia other arguments and adjectives would be valid…in short “Come to Las Vegas “(casinos are allowed to function in Morocco). How can these so different discourses (and the images that accompany the layout) function for the same brand? There’s nothing like relying on a good agency to help you in this “cultural journey”. But that’s not enough…

Do we have situations here in Brazil that are similar to brands? What do we have to do to have a broad and deep knowledge of the various cultural nuances that exist in the same context? Globalization (or regionalization in the case of Brazil) is an inexorable fact on which there’s no going back, but obtaining true insights, in my opinion, is the great challenge for brands. Is there such a things as “one message fits all”? If it doesn’t exist, into how many segments must we divide up the message? Knowing your primary and secondary target audience is the fundamental task of marketing nowadays. With the cultural differences that exist it’s all become more complicated and difficult. After all, Vegas or Al-Qaeda…What path does your brand need to take? Do you have a map of how to get there?

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