Local Gossip or Global Inspiration?
Advertising, we often tell each other smugly, is a global business. But outside of Cannes and the festival circuit, some parts of the business and certain markets can become peculiarly insular and parochial. Over the past year myself and the editorial team have been spearheading a series of in-depth features into various advertising markets around the world and one of the most surprising – shocking, even – things we’ve heard are the companies who reckon they don’t have to bother about the international market, or even their neighbouring countries. This is 2015, isn’t it?
The ‘why do we care’ mentality is one that varies from country to country, almost conforming to national stereotypes. Amsterdam’s rich heritage as a trading port means that the industry there is compulsively international and outgoing (top marks!), while in some countries the overwhelming trend has been an ambivalence about what happens beyond national borders (or even city boundaries), either down to historical insularity or clichéd insouciance.
On a personal level, it doesn’t make sense. The smartest people operating at the highest levels in the industry are the ones who are constantly travelling, or at least constantly seeking out people and ideas from every corner of the world. Global ECDs and CCOs have to be able to take a global view while also appreciating local subtleties and sensitivities. Of all people I’ve met within the adland elite, the most impressive and capable have been those with an insatiable curiosity, a constant drive for betterment and pin-sharp powers of perception. You don’t get to the top by wearing blinkers.
One obvious argument against limiting yourself to your local market is that you cut yourself off from potential opportunities and clients. The world is in constant flux and seemingly random or inconsequential connections made today can reap rewards tomorrow. And whether you work in a creative agency, a digital shop, an animation studio or post house, these days your competition doesn't just the companies down the road or round the corner.
For me, though, the most pertinent reason to embrace the wider world and to push yourself to engage with people from all over, to delve deeply into markets with no immediately obvious link with your own home country, is that there’s just so much to learn. Why is it that mobile in China has followed such an explosive trajectory compared with Western markets? Why is Argentina’s ad industry struggling while less obvious Latin American countries are really making a mark on the world stage? How does having several advertising hubs make Germany’s advertising landscape unique? How is Sweden’s start up culture feeding into the ad industry?
One fascinating example of the benefits of casting your net wide comes from Ireland. Talking to the IAPI (Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland) Chief Executive Tania Banotti recently, I was intrigued to learn that, in a bid to grow Dublin into a greater global force, the local industry had been swotting up on Colombia. Thanks to the efforts of the likes of Jose Miguel Sokoloff and Juan Carlos Ortiz among others, the country is now a respected player and regularly brings it home when it comes to international awards and glowing commentary in the trade press. In the past year or so, I’ve personally interviewed several Colombians and have been nurturing my own curious obsession with the country – and it was great to learn that I’m not the only one.
So it’s shocking when, from time to time, I come across people in this industry who don’t share that inquisitiveness. Perhaps it’s because advertising types like to see themselves as sophisticated – too cool to ask the dumb questions or express a sense of wonder. The insularity of some markets and egocentrism of others is something that’s certainly dwindling as a wider variety of countries make their mark on the global stage – so here’s hoping that the lingering doubters are on their way out too.