Can you tell your Meerkats from your Singapore Girls?

I was both frustrated and happy this week to be caught up in the admin’ of helping people move from one office to another. It is a time consuming task all about managing mind numbingly dull and yet hugely significant personal details and arrangements. Bleh! The good thing is we have more people from ‘here’ over ‘there’ and vice versa. Brits to Abu Dhabi, yanks and Canadians to London and Paris and a Russian now splitting her time between London and Moscow amongst the more recent movers.

There are many benefits for the company, employees and clients, but one of the biggest is that we get more and better truly global programming. Let me explain what I mean by that using two of my favourite all time advertising campaigns (because ads are always more simple to explain than PR campaigns).

Singapore airlines’ ‘Great Way to Fly‘ is a campaign built on a globally relevent idea – the romance of travel. Every culture has it’s own version of this thought and the creative expression for this, the Singapore Girl, brilliantly personifies it. A universal idea, built on a globally relevent insight (people want good service on an aeroplane) expressed with a simple and powerful icon. Perfection.

The 2006 TVC.

Surely one of the most stand-out successful campaigns in the UK in recent years is Compare the Market with Alexsander the Meerkat. Comedy advertising genius but built on local insights and delivered through a creative vehicle that relies on a very English taste for puns and not a little national stereotyping. Hugely effective in the UK. Totally useless in China or Spain (not that it tries to be anything other than a UK campaign you understand).

The problem is that many people live in one country all their professional lives and either by choice, ambition or luck end up trading in global programming. Some can indeed make the imaginative leap and do it. Some are sensitive and collaborative enough to do it. The majority are not. If you have lived, as an adult, in another country for a minimum of two years you will have had many of your basic programmed assumptions about life and how people behave broken. It is why living in a foreign culture can be intimidating, disorienting and sometimes lonely even when you are surrounded by people. But if you survive that, and even if you then spend the rest of your life at ‘home’, the chances are you will be better at understanding, delivering and advocating proper global programming.

The irony is that most global campaigns and programmes come out of the US and the UK and yet PR people in both these countries are in my experience about the least proficient in telling their Singapore Girls from their meerkats. Something to do with the scale and arrogance of those PR markets and probably the language? And ultimately, this is why I am happy to be worrying about apartments in Paris, visas in Hong Kong and schooling in the UAE. And my free career advice remains go west or east or south, but go.

Inspired by a very English breakfast with Amelia and Robert.

Categories Technology

6 thoughts on “Can you tell your Meerkats from your Singapore Girls?

  1. “…if you survive that, and even if you then spend the rest of your life at ‘home’, the chances are you will be better at understanding, delivering and advocating proper global programming”.

    I don’t want to sound cliche but this is so true. I lived it and I’m still living it. The mindset you get by living in foreign cultures is a great plus. At least from my perspective I see this kind of experiences as a must for any practitioner involved in global programming but not only.

    We are living and working in a ‘global environment’ which basically means that everyone (at different levels) is directly or indirectly affected by it. Having a global mindset means that even though you might not be the one dealing with global programming etc. you are aware of these global dynamics and therefor you can better support, contribute and help your team/organization.

    I grew up speaking 3 languages (now I have skills in 6), I manage a team that is located across 3 different countries (between Europe and South America) and that deals with projects that space from North America to Europe. The mix I get out of it? Priceless.

    The most shocking thing for me living this global experience is that on one hand I’m learning so much and on the other I’m finding every day something new, interesting and inspiring that I didn’t even know was existing, both on professional and personal level too. It feels like a 24/7 non-stop-flow of cultural and professional enrichment. I hope you got what I mean.

    The main problem I’m facing? I’m struggling to find people, especially young, that share my same vision.
    I wish one day I’ll be able to find, get together with or join a team of great, future oriented and globally open-minded people.

    As usual, love your posts & insights,



  2. Andrea. I totally agree with your last point. We have filled places now, but six months ago we were begging for people to go to China. No takers. Your language skills hame me by the way.


  3. “we were begging for people to go to China. No takers”

    “Your language skills hame me by the way.”
    (blush) Thanks…


  4. Great article, share the sentiments, particularly the need to be cultulrally attuned and the sad lack of that amongst Anglo Americans. I have lived and worked in Germany for 19 years and am now back in the UK. My sense is that despite Rynair, easy global communications, Skype etc…there is an enhanced parochialism around. Language abilities? Hm. Knowledge about what is going on in other countries? Hm. Interest in it? Hm. Without wishing to appear a centrist, I wonder if geographically peripheral countries are in danger of being more provincial in outlook. What do you think?


  5. Catching up on my reading and voila – once again Mr. Brain you have hit the nail on the head. And btw – I am living in China now.

    @Andrea – great insight and comments. My mindset has always been different as a Brit growing up and living Worldwide…so I feel any access to those of other cultures keeps me alive as life is supposed to be about learning and I do so everyday.


  6. Suki you do get around…what are you doing in China?


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