The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Acronyms Are Offensive …
April 14, 2011, 6:30 am
Filed under: Comment

So when I was at the Microsoft conference, I was asked my opinion on the BRIC countries … otherwise known as Brazil, Russia, India & China.

In essence, they wanted to know how companies like Microsoft could maximise the opportunity in these developing nations.

As usual, I went on a bit of a rant.

You see, while I understand why these countries get grouped together and even why they are termed ‘developing’, I can’t help but think both these terms have contributed to why so many Western brands fuck up in these markets.

First issue: Grouping them together implies they’re like eachother.

They’re not.

Let’s face it, if they accept the communities of Ohio are different to the communities of California, why the fuck do they think 4 massive countries, divided by seas and thousands of miles will be similar?

“But they don’t think that Robert, it’s just they’re very important markets and have been grouped as such”, I hear you cry.

Well maybe that is the case, but even if I accept that marketers in Western companies appreciate the massive cultural differences between them all [which I only am semi-willing to accept, especially when you see the work they produce in an attempt to seduce people to their brand] the fact they have grouped them together as if the countries have only just been discovered demonstrates the small mindedness so many Western companies have towards the rest of the World.

[I pointed out that by their reckoning, we could give America, England, Rwanda and Spain the acronym ARSE, but no one seemed to like that. Or find it funny]

And here’s the other thing … calling them ‘developing’ is a fucking outrage.

Sure, in some aspects, each of those BRIC countries may have certain elements that are not as advanced as Western nations – but in many areas, you can point to things where they are miles ahead and yet too many people have the impression these countries are a blank canvas … countries with no views or values of their own … countries waiting for some Western King to come in and show them the way and in all those cases, that is a massive pile of absolute bollocks.

Every one of the BRIC nations [or – as some organisations are calling them, the BRICI to take into account Indonesia] is a proud and culturally rich nation … and in many cases, they’re already in better financial positions than many of the countries who are claiming dominance &/or superiority. To say they are ‘developing’ is a huge misrepresentation which I genuinely believe has/is leading to arrogance on the part of Western nations and organisations because they approach new challenges in a way that makes the brands board of directors feel good and comfortable rather than doing something that truly appreciates and understands the needs/wants & desires of the market they are entering.

Seriously, for all the research these companies do – or claim to do – it’s astounding just how many get it totally and utterly wrong but then when you realise how many companies want to hear their truth rather than the real truth … and how many research companies want long term contracts, rather than a reputation for true insight … you can sort of understand why.

I should point out not all companies are like this. In fact there are many who have done things very well – over a long period of time – but there are a whole heap of them [of which agencies are amongst the worst] that either ignore cultural reality or simply advocate views that ignore any sort of cultual and societal evolution whatsoever.

Acronyms may be convenient but they are also about exclusivity … keeping people [supposedly] in the know, away from people who don’t – or worse, letting people feel like they are in the know when they absolutely aren’t – and all this leads to is arrogance, delusion and billions of dollars being thrown down the drain.

Each of the BRIC or BRICI nations aren’t new.

They’ve been around for longer than many of the so called developed nations.

They have given the World things that many of us now take for granted.

Things that are the foundation of life as we know it.

If companies want to know how they should approach them – do things that can make them lots of money – they should go and spend time there … not dictating terms, but absorbing life … and then, maybe they’ll realise underneath each one of those 4 or 5 innocuous letters, there’s a whole range of individual cultures, ambitions and complexities waiting to be tapped, things that need to be embraced on their own terms, not made convenient just because it helps a bunch of faceless board directors in the US and UK feel better about those “funny people on the other side of the world”.


72 Comments

I thought it was just me!

Comment by seanjrankine

if you agree with campbell, it means youre fucking doomed.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Sean, nice to have you pop by – and ignore Andy – what it really means is I am not as alone as people like to make me believe, ha!

Comment by Rob

When I first read this I thought you might be being a touch sensitive, but when I thought about the people I’ve met that use terms like BRIC (never heard BRICI but wouldn’t it be better if it was spelt BRIIC?) I realized you might have a point. They all say it with this air of superiority and authority even though they know little or nothing about any of the countries contained in that acronym.

I’m sure this situation doesn’t apply to everyone who uses it but I think the real issue you’re raising is more about how companies view market opportunity than the terms they use.

When I lived in Asia, I used to be shocked how many Western companies wanted to adopt a communication strategy as if they were talking to a country full of illiterate people. They’d use terms like “developing market” or “underdeveloped advertising knowledge” which on hindsight were like your hated BRIC term; demonstrating the brand didn’t really understand the markets they were going in to nor did they want to because this way made them feel better.

Good post Robert, I have got to give it a lot more thought.

Comment by Pete

BRIIC would be so much better than BRICI. That one sounds like a cheap Apple version of a digital house building product.

Comment by DH

you fucking creep dave.

Comment by andy@cynic

I know exactly what you mean Pete.

What is frightening is also how many local clients are starting to think/act in the same way.

These are clever, educated, professional people – viewing their friends, families and neighbours as basically, stupid.

Given the people of Asia are some of the brightest beings on planet earth – I find this development tragically fascinating and I am sure it has more to do with their need to feel a sense of superiority and importance versus genuinely being so blind to what is around them. I say that, but maybe I’m being way too polite.

And yes, BRIIC would be much better.

Comment by Rob

this is going to be one of those serious, stay on fucking tangent posts isnt it.

anyone got any meths?

Comment by andy@cynic

Another meeting where you made yourself popular then. Good point though.

Comment by DH

as sure as death and fucking taxes. conferences are possibly the only time i actually like hearing campbell talk.

Comment by andy@cynic

I give good conference even if I say so myself.

Comment by Rob

There’s a lot of places in America that wouldn’t look out of place in a tier 4 China city. Good post, enjoyed it.

Comment by Pat Lim

Hi Pat, thanks for popping by. Good point. Hope you come back soon.

Comment by Rob

Did the audience say F.U. limey?

Comment by Billy Whizz

I think they were too busy trying to work out why they were listening to a man in Birkies.

Comment by Rob

no they werent campbell, they were all asleep as soon as you said “hello”.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’ve never heard of the term bric but is it supposed to mean they’re countries building their own economies or countries that can rebuild broken western economies?

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s a very grown up question for you Billy.

Comment by DH

F.U. to you too.

Comment by Billy Whizz

did your mum write this question for you because it sure as shit didnt come from your mouth.

Comment by andy@cynic

Good point Billy. (Did I really type that!?)

I think the common consensus is the former but the reality is the latter.

Comment by Pete

This planning shit is easy except you have to use words like “former” and “latter” which confuse the fuck out of me.

Comment by Billy Whizz

“The fact they have grouped them together as if the countries have only just been discovered, demonstrates the small mindedness so many Western companies have towards the rest of the World.”

We say it’s a smaller, more connected World, but the way some people/brands behave when they finally venture overseas seems to say it is anything but.
Good post, wonderful to see your belief in the region is still sky high.

Comment by George

Good point George. Some companies way of understanding Asian markets seems to be how they get treated at their local Chinese or Thai takeout.

Comment by Pete

or through their fucking porn collection.

Comment by andy@cynic

If that was the case, it would mean Asia is flexible and likes to be treated badly.

Comment by DH

Or so I’ve heard.

Comment by DH

fucking pervert. you been talking to youporn planner again?

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes it’s all his fault.

Comment by DH

Nice to see you’re not publically humiliating me today George.

Comment by Rob

mary must be back.

Comment by andy@cynic

i fucking hate posts like this because it shows i know fuck all about international business. on the positive, im so far fucking advanced than the rest of the fuckers out there that even at my shittest im better than their fucking best so i can chill knowing my amazing confidence hasnt got to look over its fucking shoulder.

i suppose this is a good point. i guess it depends if youre someone who lives in one of those 4/5 countries or not because like hotness/ugliness, its all in the eye of the fucking beholder.

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s not the sort of answer we have come to expect from you. Is everything alright?

Comment by George

you know perfectly fucking well whats going on and you can stop being so fucking smug about it as well. prick.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s more anticipated than the Royal wedding.

Comment by George

not fucking hard.

and why did you capitalise the ‘r’ on royal, its not like queenie will fucking knight you. then knowing your fucking luck….

cock.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’m smug about it. I’m very, very smug about it in fact.

Comment by Rob

and you can fucking shut up as well campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

Whatever is going on with Andrew? I sense from the ribbing it is nothing serious, but I hope all will be alright.

This is a wonderful post Robert. There may be some areas where I feel you are taking 2+2 and possibly making 5, however the underlying issues you call out are sadly something I see and hear far too often, especially where you say “people feel like they are in the know when they absolutely aren’t”.

An excellent read, I will be forwarding this to some people who definitely need to see it.

Comment by Lee Hill

I’m glad you like it Lee, because I’ve just written Monday’s post which is on a related matter that sadly your organisation is also kind-of contributing too. Not intentionally I should add, but it’s doing it.

As for Andy, it’s a very serious thing … which means it’s a wonderful thing for the rest of us. Ha.

Comment by Rob

give me free upperclass for life and you find out lee. dont worry, it wont cost you a fucking penny, you can give me campbells as the fucker is going to be calling you out on monday and you cant allow that.

Comment by andy@cynic

I will make sure I am sitting down when I read it.

Comment by Lee Hill

This is a great post Rob. Like Pete my first impression was that you were making a mountain out of a molehill but then when I thought about it, I could think of a number of occasions where many of your points came to life in my mind.

Essential reading for anyone looking to work with overseas markets.

Comment by Bazza

id read it on my ipad 2 if you fucking sent me one.

Comment by andy@cynic

Maybe the US/UK board directors who talk about the “funny people on the other side of the world” are talking about you.

Comment by Billy Whizz

fucking good point billy. youre on fucking fire.

Comment by andy@cynic

The point about acronyms excluding people is really interesting. Doubt it is ever intentional, but it does have that effect. Not thought of that. Unilever and P&G must really want to keep people away then. 🙂

Comment by Pete

Of course anyone who uses “BRIC” is a retard. That’s pretty obvious. BTW, didn’t the term emerge out of the investment banking community?

What’s even more mental is people who’ve never lived outside Europe or the US running BRIC management or marketing from central offices in London or New York.

Personally, I love hearing bankers and the like talking about the business trips to India (I lived in India). They get escorted from their business class seats, to their five star hotel, then chauffeured to the luxury office their Indian client built just for entertaining Western investors looking for some BRIC action, then back to the airline lounge. 2-3 day round trip and they think they “get” BRIC! Too funny.

Comment by Fernando

BRIC was indeed founded by someone in the investment banking community, though to be slightly fair to them, the reason they came up with that definition probably suited their purposes far more [ie: literally a descriptor] than many companies currently use and adopt the term. [a cultural grouping]

I’ve said for many years that companies should have their HQ in Asia because the reality is people here are far better informed about Western habits/needs/markets than the other way round.

While there are many reasons for this – many totally valid – one of the main factors is that the board of directors want to stay in their comfort zone rather than have to endure the ‘hardship’ of living in another country, despite the fact the standard of living, standard of new experiences and standard of opportunity/potential can be much higher … or at least, not that much lower. [City depending, though that’s also similar to many Western markets too]

I remember being offered a massive job as the planning head for a major brand concentrating on the ‘BRIC’ countries. And guess where it was based?

Sydney.

FUCKING Sydney!

And when I asked why being in Australia was deemed an appropriate place to be located when you’re trying to talk to people in Russia, Brazil, China and India, they said it had been there for the last 15 years as if [1] that was a valid excuse and [2] there had been no economic or cultural shift in the World in the past decade and a half.

That alone told me it was the wrong place to go – because as much as I love Australia, I don’t believe you can do your job properly – especially in adland – if you don’t connect to the culture.

Comment by Rob

as i fucking feared, serious on tangent comments. pass me the fucking sick bag.

Comment by andy@cynic

the only possible reason you might have your offices in sydney, if you were concerned about brazil, russia, india, china (or mexico – my own addition) is if you were doing research for climate change and/or airline travel! a detached and objective view is one thing, a 10-hour minimum flight distance is another..

Comment by lauren

There is never a good reason to have your key office based in Sydney when you are only focused on BRIC / BRICI / BRIC MI [that’s for you Lauren] nations.

Comment by Rob

Disturbing post. For many years I was part of ‘Rest of the world’ when it came to support and zone 2 when I paid for shit from Microsoft, Sony, etc. Nothing like watching an add shot in Italy when you live next to a squatter camp in The Third World.

Comment by Henk

Hi there Henk, great to have you pop by …

The ‘ad shot in Italy’ thing is almost as bad as the ‘status’ rubbish so many companies embrace … often done because it makes them feel better about themselves rather than it being something their audience really wants.

Of course sometimes it’s a fair thing, but this whole “sell the dream” thing is often both inaccurate, misplaced and down right dictatorial.

Comment by Rob

I simply have to say, Excellent Post. It really moved me.
I dislike being a a BRICI-ian because I am an Indian.
And what really gets me is when people refer to India as a ‘developing’ nation. So I totally agree with you.
Last but not the least, I think ARSE is really funny.

Comment by swati

Question, is ARSE the theme of the week? If so, Rock on!

Comment by swati

Glad ARSE made you laugh … you’re about the only one, ha!

And I’m glad this post moved you, that actually means a hell of a lot to me, so thank you …

Comment by Rob

Only in the sense that this blog is a load of arse.

Comment by John

i think they use the acronym BRIC because the term ‘future ancestors’ is too scary to contemplate.

Comment by lauren

I love your evilness.

Comment by Rob

Thanks a fucking bunch for blogging about this. The bloody Western world and their superiority complex. I’ve lost count of the number of times people from Asia have told me ‘our ads are just so much better than the US/UK’ – because it’s true. Asia gets culture the way the West doesn’t. Rob has a point. And yes, culture, history, heritage..let’s not even go down that road.

Also, Lauren, ‘future ancestors’…hahahaha. Love.

Comment by Anjali

So what do you think about the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), a later banking acronym bunching together the EU economies that are in the worst fiscal state?

It’s a simple device and a legitimate grouping, as is BRIC if you acknowledge that developing is used in terms of size of GDP per capita and is no reflection on the intellectual, political or cultural excellence of those countries.

The problem, as so often, is the lazy adoption and abuse by marketing types of ideas from other fields. But then the industry is notoriously innumerate and loves to see causality where there is only coincidence.

Comment by John

I think that is a bad term as well …

The issue is, while some may simply use it as a grouping term [though the ‘name’ has obviously been chosen to express a point] there are too many people/groups [of which marketers are just one of them] who read much more into it than they should and end up classifying whole countries and regions with the sort of one-dimensional, myopic and often cliched view that ends up screwing over a shitload more people … simply because we have become a society that likes to pretend/feel we’re experts with the minimum of effort and evidence, as seen by people who use terms like BRIC when they haven’t even been there.

As I said, the countries in BRIC may be developing in some areas, but in others they are miles ahead and in financial terms [where the term originated from in the first place] given China’s current financial dominance, if they’re just classified as ‘developing’ then god help the rest of the World.

Comment by Rob

you start a job at a company as the lowest of the fucking low. over the years you learn, get better and start doing more. a fucking decade passes and youre fucking running a shitload then one day those wanker bosses hire some prick ahead of you, a prick with no direct experience.

you go up to your boss and ask what the fuck is going on and they tell you they cant promote you because even though youre doing well, youre still the lowest of the fucking low to them.

thats why terms like bric is shit doddsy, lazy marketer or not, impressions last and its a fuckload worse for the person getting called the name. you of all fuckers should understand that.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’ll get my coat.

Comment by John

just get me a fucking beer.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t know about India or Brazil, but good grief; if you think of China like it’s one uniform country then you are doomed.

As for the word ‘developing’, it’s only as bad as saying consumer or using social demographic to presume everyone is the same… fucking annoying.

Go have a conversation with one of your friends, then another… did you talk to them as if they were one person? No you bloody didn’t. People are individuals and they vary in countless ways, to treat them any other way is just stupid.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Great post, Rob.
Puts me in mind of an equally insidious definition: ‘housewife’.

Comment by Doman

in my fucking experience, they should be called house taker.

fucking divorce lawyers.

Comment by andy@cynic

Then there’s DINKIES, NIMBIES, YUPPIES. Very lazy, great post

Comment by northern

when you praise campbell it really means its all fucking over. and what do the letters in yuppie stand for, apart from wanker?

wheres age, niko and marcus these fucking days. if they can escape this shit hole i want to too.

Comment by andy@cynic

how fucking apt, i was comment 69. meal for 2.

Comment by andy@cynic




Comments are closed.