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Thursday, 10 February 2011

Nationalism in commercials and marketing : here to stay?

You can call it a disturbing trend or just a trend: looming nationalism in commercials.
Commercials enforcing nationalistic feelings might be normal in some other countries, but in the internationally oriented country The Netherlands, it is quite uncommon. We totally depend on our export and our neighbor countries are our best customers. That helps.

Yes, we made a joke or two about the Belgians and we teased the Germans with our common war history. And in times of football (“soccer” for my American friends) everything is allowed, but that is all.

But now the largest Dutch dairy company Campina suddenly says in its commercial: “our dairy products only contain milk from Dutch cows”! As if you could taste the difference…

And the biggest tea brand Pickwick Tea (part of Sara Lee) has the following lines for its commercial (of course translated to English - EL):

Woman: ”Why is there an English tea blend, but not a Dutch blend?”.
Pickwick professional:”But there was a Dutch blend. The Dutch were the first to bring tea to Europe 400 years ago”
Woman: “Can we not turn that tea from the past into tea from now?”
Young man: “Real Dutch tea”
Woman: “And we make it together with real Dutch people”

You can dispute the cheesiness of the lines, but you can’t dispute the nationalistic tone of the commercial.

Of course nationalism and xenophobia in politics were already a well-known phenomena, with the FPÖ in Austria (Freedom Party Austria led by Jörg Haider),  “Vlaams belang” (Flemish interest, the nationalistic party in Belgium, led by Filip de Winter) and the PVV (Party for Freedom in The Netherlands, led by Geert Wilders). But these parties could be dismissed as side-issues.

But when commercials and marketing in general start to bang the nationalistic drum, there is really something going on. Marketing men investigate the results when they try something. And it seems they liked what they tried.

Peter Atwater, the eminent Professor of Minyanville and one of the brightest macro-economical analysts I know, wrote a very interesting article about it yesterday: Pledging Allegiance: Multinationals in an Increasingly Nationalist World.

The article discussed the fact that multinationals like Shell, Anheuser-Busch and General Electric cannot be “stateless” anymore, but have to choose very cautiously the passport they will be carrying. “It’s not what your country can do for you, but it’s what you can do for your country”. Those are words from arguably the most famous statesman, John F. Kennedy and almost those same words were used by President Obama lately, when addressing the multinationals.

The article is an absolute must-read and is a warning to the multinationals that a nationalistic wind is blowing at the moment. The subject of the article was different, but the message was the same: nationalism is here to stay for the coming years.

I hope we can avoid the pivotal point where a “healthy”, normal nationalism turns into a “you are second-rate people, because you are not Dutch” kind of nationalism. We do have some bad experiences with it.

And maybe we should remember the words of arguably the greatest statesman Sir Winston Churchill:

The day will come when the joybells will ring again throughout Europe, and when victorious nations, masters not only of their foes but of themselves, will plan and build in justice, in tradition, and in freedom a house of many mansions where there will be room for all.”


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