Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why it is so difficult to do cultural advertising well?

Advertising, almost by definition is cultural. Advertising influences our culture. The culture influences advertising. Now, in a country with so many different cultures producing advertising that is meaningful to these diverse cultures is a challenge. While it is true that in some cases a single message may do well across cultures, many times the message would be more effective if it is customized to the target culture.

Many culturally directed ads are simply a manifestation of stereotypes and relatively trite. That is because the difference between objective and subjective culture is not generally known. That Hispanics have large families and that they are family oriented is true, but definitely overused, and almost stereotypically used in advertising. That Hispanics have an affinity for social gatherings is true, but also overused. These are all manifestations of objective culture. These are the cultural manifestations that we can observe. And because we can observe them we think these are the culture itself. But culture is much more than objective culture.

Subjective culture, however, is what we carry in our heads. These are our values and beliefs, for example, believing that our children will transcend us. That they are more important than us because they represent a step towards infinite eternity. That is subjective culture. When those values and beliefs are inserted in advertising they have a high probability of connecting with the consumer. That is, assuming that the rest of the message is actually honest and the product or service is valuable in itself. Thus making a product or service the one that embodies a feeling of pride, a sense of transcendence, the emotion of celebrating being alive, for example, can be much more powerful than the simple use of objective culture symbols.

So, why there is so much advertising that is sadly empty and simply innocuous? Because many in the advertising industry have not yet understood these issues. Many appear to think that simply convoluting a story and doing something to stand out in the clutter will do the job. Standing out is useful when what stands out is a central part of the message. Making the the story complex for the sake of creativity is not.

Clarity, honesty, directness, and having a good product or service to sell are key to good advertising. Creativity resides in parsimony. Simple elegance that as part of the message makes it emotionally powerful.

After all these years of doing research I have learned that Hispanic consumers are eager to connect with and believe honest advertising messages. So, it is our job to make that connection and believability available. We need to find the insights that make for the cultural occasion, for the cultural emotion that can surround our ideas, products, and services. This requires in-depth research. Research that digs deep into how people feel and think.

The process of account planning is precisely to make the voice of the consumer heard in the advertising context. But it is not necessarily the overt expression of what consumers say, but those subtle beliefs and perceptions that have been ingrained as part of the enculturation process. That which we bring from our childhood. As marketers and advertisers, our duty is to comprehend where the consumer is coming from so we can show we understand him/her. So we can better be of service.