The variety of advertisements and the view of the press in America across the different media outlets seemingly are unmatched. General explanations such as freedom of press and speech would serve adequately but we must take a look on the cultural aspect as well. I was lucky enough to have experienced four very different cultures in just two and a half weeks. Prague, Paris, Brussels and Rome all offer different perspectives on media and advertising that coincide with their history and customs. Seemingly common norms in the United States were immediately altered when arriving in Prague on January 6th. The Czech Republic has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and their unique culture is depicted in how they view advertising and the press.
It was easy to see how much Prague economically relies on tourism after witnessing the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and the other beautiful monuments. As soon as you walk into downtown Prague, small shops and pubs are abundant. One reoccurring theme was the red and white Coca Cola brand on the overhead advertisements of pubs and food stands. From afar you would think that the pub or food stand was called “Coca Cola” but each different pub/food stand was indeed called something different. Most of the pubs also advertised the commercialized beverage “Pilsner” or other Prague beers. Inside the pubs the beer actually cost less than getting a bottle of water(water isn’t free…anywhere). This immediately showed how Prague’s passion about their beer is incorporated into their advertising. I was not fully exposed to advertising in Prague until we had the pleasure of visiting McCann Erickson. After a lecture about Czech culture and the functionality of McCann Erickson, I had a better idea of Czech advertising. Czech citizens view themselves as conservative and somewhat distrusting of advertisements and brands. A reoccurring subject that was brought up was how Communism had a profound affect on the Czech Republic. It wasn’t until 1989 that Communism had faded. As a result, the advertising industry is very young compared to other nations. There are a multitude of different languages and cultures within the Czech Republic so reliance on family and tradition is a reoccurring theme. The pure content of their ads are less restricted than in the United States. They have many global brands and local brands that they have to broadcast to the Czech people. Crude language and the usage of sex appeal in some ads would not be acceptable in the United States.
After a lecture at the famous Charles University, Dr. Milan Smid described how television and the Internet are just now on the uprising. The lack of satellite coverage proves how hard it is for advertisers to effectively reach their target audience. A standard television set has only 5 channels and most are news programs. For a while Google was the second most used search engine next to Seznam, which depicted more Czech customs such as a dating service. It would seem that the Czech Republic’s history accurately depicts how advertising is viewed and utilized.
The next stop for our tour was Paris, France. Several media visits proved very insightful into the French culture. The media visit to Slate magazine offered an in depth look on how a newspaper tries to make a profit and reach readers. Slate shares a similar marketing strategy to the United States. They target younger readers to try and convince their parents to help fund the newspaper. The audience that can help fund a newspaper has a somewhat close-minded view. They view a newspaper that provides intellectual and artistic news. Slate tries to provide innovative and different news that just does not appeal to that audience.
The biggest difference I found in Paris was revealed during a lecture at École de Journalisme de Sciences Po. Peter Gumbel focused on the differences between America and French journalism. According to his lecture, the French allows for freedom of speech, unless deemed “harmful by the government”. A specific example is that it is against the law for the press, is to show someone that is in handcuffs. Also, the public figures in France have a “special” right to privacy. For example, one political figure had an illegitimate daughter for sixteen years and it was not exposed once. Another example is when a Communist party member was photographed in Nazi sexual acts with strippers. A journalist published these photos and then was sued because of it. These specific examples would never take place in America. Privacy is one thing the French do not take for granted and is depicted in the media and everyday life.
Our next journey was to the beautiful capital of the European Union, Brussels. Gareth Harding lectured about the European Union and why it is so important. Belgium is divided into two cultural categories, the French and the Dutch almost divided down the middle. He then proceeded to lecture on how the cultural differences prove hard to effectively advertise. The taxation in Belgium is one of the highest in all of the EU. Thus, it is almost impossible to have national branding. That is why there is such a reliance on small shops and pubs. The Cantillon Brewery is a very successful brewery in all of Belgium. They are a family-run business and thrive because of their dedication to their product. They let their beer sit and authenticate for more than a year. This business practice is becoming rare in the United States, but the common business practice in Belgium.
Our final visit was to the elegant city of Rome, Italy. The over abundance of Christian culture is relevant in almost all forms of media. The lectures from Pontificia Università della Santa Croce, Catholic News Agency and other Vatican correspondents proved that Catholicism dominates the press. There is so much tradition and history in Rome that it would seem unjust to do otherwise. Four different countries within the similar boundaries as different states offer very unique and differing views of the media and advertising. After gaining this essential insight, I can now offer a multitude of outlooks on what seems to be a universal business.
By Todd Smithern