Cannes Lions | Article
Culture Shock: Communicating In The Urbangeas

Are marketers doing enough to learn about the cultures in the developing world? A panel speaking to that subject and more on Tuesday at the ogilvydo Studio in Cannes thinks not, and that there is a great opportunity for companies who break stereotypes and connect authentically around the world. Cindy Gallop (CEO, IfWeRanTheWorld), John Gerzema (CEO, BAV Consulting) and Justin Sturrock (Partner, PwC) discussed what brands and agencies are missing out on by communicating from afar.

Perhaps part of the problem begins with the terms that many folks are still using to describe growing markets. “Emerging” or “developing” are reductive, outmoded terms that in many ways are no longer accurate. Middle-class growth is set to boom in many areas of the world, largely concentrated in sprawling urban areas. These megacities, which include the urban centers and the areas around them—were given a name in a recent O&M report: urbangea.

Lagos is an example of a fast-growing urbangea. Gerzema spoke about being in the Nigerian city recently, and observing a massive thirst for entertainment and culture. He also mentioned that Lagos has the world’s highest per capita consumption of champagne, something that certainly goes against the widely-accepted view of the market.

Gallop found similar stereotype-breaking behaviors in Sao Paulo—another urbangea—and believes that marketers are missing out on a crucial step. “I don’t think brands and marketers are literally experiencing this [in real life], for themselves, in the way they should.” She likened it to a company starting a Twitter page, firing off a tweet, and never returning. Marketing to a people that you haven’t spent time get to knowing is more than a waste of time and resources, it’s inauthentic and at worse, offensive.

“You have to go to these urban centers and see it for yourself,” Gallop said.

When marketers don’t take the time to get to know local customs and behaviors, the result is a lot of stereotyping in advertising communications. But stereotyping takes place everywhere, in many forms, and the city itself is one of them. Traditional urban planning has been dominated by a male lens. But the role of women is changing rapidly throughout the world. Marketers need to understand the changing gender dynamics and adjust accordingly.

Of course, part of the problem is that gender equality in adland is still a major issue.

“Our industry has to wake up to the fact that we are unconsciously biased in everything we do,” Gallop said. “You’ve got to bring that close in order to address any of these issues and do it responsibly on behalf of brands all over the world.”

In some areas, such as China, local brands are overtaking global ones as preferred by the local market. Brands who don’t see that inauthentic messaging can be damaging will run the risk of being ostracized by local populations.

“Since the nineties, I’ve heard people say ‘think globally, act locally,” Sturrock said. “I’ve yet to see it.”

(Watch the full panel here)

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