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Advertising Around the World

You may have seen the IDC Video Team’s take on advertising trends in America and Korea. As their… disturbing conclusion showed, American advertisers tend to be more direct and aggressive, where Korean style tends to be softer, with a focus that is more on features rather than force. This raises the question: What about advertisements you may see in other counties? Before we get down to the hard hitting advertising realities of our world’s diverse cultures, let’s start with something lighthearted. This is a cell phone commercial made for Korea’s own Samsung, marketed to India. During a recent 12-day visit to Nepal, this commercial’s jingle managed to become so ingrained in my mind that the tune now makes me think of the streets of Kathmandu. Considering Kathmandu has roving blackouts, and I spent very little time near a TV set, I am startled at how quickly the song became burned into my mind. I still find myself singing it in my head when I am traveling.

You have to admit, it is very catchy. And as far as my research has concluded, the song was made specifically for this advertisement. I could not find any other version of this tune anywhere on the internet.

Before we begin to think that advertising is all fun jingles and amusing pictures, we must remember that it is also a hard-science, data-driven medium with mores that are socially driven and often enforced by law. As we know, American advertisements are aggressive, loud, and flashy. In American TV commercials, it is rare for the same image to stay on the screen for more than a second, which can lead to headaches. As a result, a lot of viewers simply choose to DVR their programs and skip the multi-million dollar ads altogether. I guess it is a good thing that in the U.S., no one DVRs the Super Bowl, where a thirty second spot can cost an advertiser over $3 million. Here’s a popular Super Bowl ad that made golden-age actress Betty White a TV super star – again – and launched several variations in an international advertising campaign for Mars, Inc.

Did anyone spot Abe Vigoda at the end of that ad? He played Tessio in The Godfather. Here’s the Korean version of that same TV spot:

Although television is still the largest advertising medium in most developed countries, the internet and magazines still carry their bulk of the load. Depending on the culture the ad runs in, the styles can be noticeably different. Western magazine titles are available in convenience stores across the Middle East, but the “sex sells” style is still very much haram (sinful), so it is not uncommon to see certain images blackened out with a permanent marker. Yes, apparently, somewhere in the Middle East, there is a team of men armed with Sharpies sitting in an office, coloring in side-boob shots to protect the local social mores and decency laws.

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And yet, somehow images of rude gestures like this one slip through the screening process:

Photo courtesy of www.peninsularityensues.com

Photo courtesy of www.peninsularityensues.com

There isn’t much call for scanty fashion advertisements in the Middle East, but they make up for the lack of content with adverts for jewelry and perfumes, which are a huge part of the market. This is not to say that Middle Eastern fashion shies away from sexy – on the contrary. They just do a more modest version of it. These are issues of Grazia International, the “authoritative voice of style in the Middle East.”

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The local mall in the Omani capital of Muscat even has a Victoria’s Secret… but they only sell accessories, fragrances and perfumes. As for magazine adverts, it is a little alarming how many of the ads contain fair-haired, Western-style models. Rather than a preference for the appearance, I am told these models are used for ads that Muslim women would not wish to appear in for stylistic reasons.

On the other side of the globe, the Russians have their own distinctive style as well, but they have decided to not only follow the styles of the decadent U.S., but to surpass them entirely. If sex sells in America, it sells in bulk in Moscow. This was, of course, not always the case. It wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet system, when Russia’s market was in dire need of a make-over, that they accepted Western marketing traditions. “Accepted” may be the wrong word, in fact. Russia relied so heavily on trade with Western economies during those hard times that they had very little say in the sort of trade they received in the form of advertising. Right up through the early Perestroika days, Russian advertising was very basic, since most businesses were only concerned with the movement of goods to the vast regions of Russia. Eleven time zones can make this a daunting and expensive task, so very little – in fact, nothing – was given to flash and dazzle advertising. Soon, however, greedy Western markets pushed their way into a Russia that was awakening to a need for mass marketing. Western styles caught on, and Russia ran with it. Now Russian women are seen as sexy and stunning—a very different description than the one Westerners heard during the Cold War. It’s not like the women have changed that much – turns out, they were always sexy and stunning. It’s terrible how a cold war can distort the facts. Check out this classic Cold War commercial for a popular American fast food chain.

Russian advertisers quickly set about destroying the myth, and man, have they succeeded. They took the tool of modern Western-style advertising, and used it to kill the Western myth of modern Russia.

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And yes, there is even something for the ladies.

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Today’s Russia is all about the glitz and glamor in much of their advertising. This is actually kind of sad in this writer’s opinion: Russian women are stunningly beautiful, glitz and glam be damned.

As a final note to what was meant to be a short, shallow commentary on advertising around the world, I would be remiss if I did not add the following comments to the previous ones regarding glitz and glam. The advertising industry everywhere really needs to recognize all women – all people, of all shapes, colors, and sizes – can be beautiful. Kindness is true beauty, and not the digitally-doctored images that are splashed before our eyes on a non-stop daily basis. Did you know that the average person today sees more advertisements in a year than their grandparents saw in their entire lives? It’s true. Sadly, very few of those advertisements are made to make us feel good about ourselves. If we felt good, we wouldn’t feel a need to buy their stuff to fill that hole in our self-esteem. Don’t buy into it. You are beautiful. It’s the ads that have gotten ugly.

So feel good. To help, here is that catchy jingle again. Or for a laugh at the whole digitally-altered concept of fake beauty, watch this, and enjoy being who you are.

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Written by Matthew Leach

I am an American expat that has been living overseas since 2007. Most of that time has been spent in East Asia as I lived in Korea until 2012. Currently I reside in the Sultanate of Oman. I enjoy traveling, and I always bring a towel, but ultimately I hope to return home to Pittsburgh. So if you hear of any jobs…

There are 2 comments

  • o0aquamentus0o says:

    I had to do a double-take on the “Essence of Putin” ad. Where did you manage to find a photo like that—The Onion?

    I wonder if the foreign companies paying for ads in the censored Omani magazines are aware of the defacement of their pieces. It can’t be the magazines themselves cutting out the content—wouldn’t they just request something more conservative to begin with? Who’s doing the censoring?

    • Matthew Leach says:

      There is a thing in Oman called the Ministry of Information. They have a lot of black Sharpies. The Putin ad was just something I threw together from one of the many shirtless Putin pics around the web. Enjoy the essence!

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