As I was getting onto the Kennedy in downtown Chicago this week a billboard caught my attention. It was a 10+ story high image of a tall, presumably icy cold, glass of Hoegaarden beer. Sure, it caught my attention because it was really hot and the beer promised to be very refreshing. But mostly because the ad was written in German. Or was it Dutch? It didn’t matter: In a City where English is the dominant language spoken inside 82% of all households and German and/or Dutch combined is spoken in less than 4% of households, this Billboard with its foreign language message gets noticed and gets the point across in less than 5 seconds: Cold, European (which equals stylish in US culture) Beer. Buy one Now!
On a hunch, I went to the InBev (the reported as Belgian but really Brazilian company that just bought Anheuser Busch) website to see if Hoegaarden was part of the InBev family, and indeed my hunch was right. Brazilian advertisers seemed to have understood the universality and immediacy of big, bold images in advertising for a while. In downtown Sao Paulo it’s common to see skyscraper-sized billboards of single giant images (often scantily clad models) promoting this or that product. (BBC reported in 2006 that the Mayor of Sao Paulo had actually banned such billboards, but as of a personal visit last year there didn’t seem to be an effect from that).
So in less than 10 seconds driving by in my car, I knew the product and sensed the ‘brand’ of the parent company. As a marketer I’m green with envy. As a multicultural marketer, I appreciate the more global approach. Historically multicultural marketing has focused on segmented markets or visions of ethnic consumers existing in isolated silos. The fact, however, is that we live in a global society where people of all different nationalities and backgrounds interact in a single environment at the same time, all the time.
T.S. Eliot once said “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. And to me, the short, simple, universal product message works. What about for you? The English was included on the Billboard in parenthesis at the bottom, almost as an afterthought. Is using a foreign language as a ‘visual’ element to convey a feeling effective? Does this ad succeed in transcending the individual cultural identities of the many diverse individuals who will drive by and experience it, to convey one single, strong message?