Die European Via de Vivre

C’était en 1991, Les murs et les rideaux de fer étaient tombés et tout le monde croyait ferme que le nouvel ordre mondial était voué à la paix. L’Union Européenne était à l’honneur et absorbait tous ceux qui frappaient à sa porte. Malgré mon attachement sans faille à cette idée, je ne pouvais pas m’empêcher de penser que cela poserait quelques problèmes. J’exposai cela à Luxembourg pendant la conférence mondiale de l’Esomar, un gros machin qui regroupe tous les instituts d’études et de sondage de la planète. Mon exposé fut reçu très fraîchement par un auditoire somnolent.

Les illustrations sont d’un camarade talentueux de l’époque, Thierry Schneider.

SUMMARY

The Europe marketing concept suffers greatly from two opposing attitudes : total amnesia regarding European history in favour of data completely deprived of context, and the claim that diverse histories and cultures are a radical obstacle to the building of EUROPE.

In fact, a simple comparison with the United States shows that linguistic, religious, historical, cultural, racial, geographical and climatic obstacles can be avoided if the nation concerned stems from a universally-rooted popular plan.

However, Europe is not a popular project. It is an idea forged by a cultural and economic elite which has no real substance for the average citizen.

Furthermore, for the more powerful nations. Europe still has to compete with other extra-European interests, a phenomenon less apparent and of 

lesser concern to the other nations. Europe must therefore shift from its present mentality of economic utopia to its real sociocultural identity.

This sociocultural reality is often difficult to observe and manage for the marketing world which opts for either global, reducing attitudes, atomizing or even hegemonic ones, fed by specialists on foreign countries.

One of the obstacles to our understanding of Europe stems from the typologies and grids which were actualy created to describe Europeans. In spite of their fascination and use they have never been more than an amnesie projection of one culture onto another.

The real marketing future in Europe must be built by drawing from the diversity and wealth of real cultures, by learning to understand them and by sticking to similar concepts and messages. This task may be trickier and more.

In this context the « European via de vivre » may well recreate new divides and bring out new barriers hidden by two centuries of nationalism. But this transformation is also a chance to see the European map redrawn to represent, at last, something for one and all within, and for those outside Europe.

1 – HISTORICAL PREJUDICES

The European marketing concept generally gives rise to two preconceived ideas which virtually cancel out its chances of success.

->The weight of history

Unlike the United States, Europe’s history is viewed quite differently from one country to another. How could the British refer to « our ancesstors, the Gauls … » ?

With very rare exceptions the annals of history have not marked the same time in each European country. Besides, a book on the history of France does not recount Europe’s history.

Therefore, the Americans, who « have no history » are fortunate in not having to view themselves from 51 different angles. We might reluctantly excuse this falsehood if it did not justify Europeans automatic reticence to become European.

Description : 01history

The truth is that each region of the U.S. is all the more related to its history since the latter is an illutration of territorial, social, religious and national conquest. If a European can pride himself on his Greco-Romanic or Germano-Saxon origins, why should the Americans not be able to do as much, referring, moreover, to their pre-Columbian heritage ?

Clearly, history is not a satisfactory explanation for the lack of fusion or solidity within Europe.

->History can quite simply be forgotten

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Working on marketing data very often requires consulting statistics and documentation which span only the last ten years. Anything preceding this period is considered as prehistoric (pre-1980 !).

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It is not rare for a marketing problem to rest on a basis of merely nine months’ evolution. The history of a foetus is confused with that of mankind. However, there is some evidence that many a problem can be greatly enlighten- ed if we focus on generations, on key events over a century, on invariable cultural bases firmly rooted since ancient times. Cleanliness, eating habits, the concept of style and tastes are not shaped by twenty years of product consumption, but by at least twenty centuries of cultural evolution. Otherwise how could we understand why sanitary towels and tampons are used in inverse proportions in Protestant and Catholic countries, or why animal and vegetable fats give rise to opposing practices and attitudes in different European regions ?

Thus history explains and provides a basis to marketing, and puts it into perspective. Moreover, it is not a brake in the process of unifying European marketing from the moment when we speak of the history of Europe and not of our own beloved country, which is like understanding the « Divine comedy » when one has only read « Purgatory ».

If one should ironically retort that marketing has no time for academic considerations, we may reply that a simple glimpse back at the past may very often shed light on the most obscure problem where banality is claimed to be the only satisfactory solution.

2 – IS A MUTLI-FACETED CULTURE AN OBSTACLE TO EUROPE?

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Let us take once again the American example, not as a model to be emulated but as a control by which to gauge our own prejudices.

The list of charges against Europe is a long one :

-Religions: Europeans are Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist Protestant, Angly can, Orthodox, Muslim …

The United States clock up no less than 350 religious, some wildly traditionalist and others wildly eccentric. Between and Amish Protestant and a barely-Christianized Navajo there must be at least as many differences as between a Lutheran and a Roman Catholic ! Something must therefore have happened in the U.S to federate and tolerate these disparities.

-Languages: Europeans speak one language per country.

Americans speak as many as one per district. There is no national language in the U.S., English being only the language of power and wealth.

Description : 13language

In all other areas, Spanish, Italian, German and French hold strong positions and are well respectd by the media.

Something must therefore have occurred in the U.S which has not yet dared to occur here. Let us say simply that the linguistic obstacle is rapidly overridden in pan-European projects where a spontaneous Esperanto of English, French, German, Italian and Spanish is freely spoken. One manags to say what one wants using terms and syntax which would mortify a purist.

-Climate: it is not as hot in Glasgow as in Palermo …

Yes, but the weather is quite different in Miami compared with Seattle.

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The landscape is just as different, the vegetation as divers,e not to mention the activities stemming from this. There is very little call for seal blubber in Dallas. Something must have brought about the idea of an « American way of life », a point we must consider when wondering what the « European via de vivre » could be.

These 3 capital areas of differeniation do not function the same way in Europe as in the U.S.

We might add other themes such as race, distance, or geographical relationships with similar findings. We do not mean to suggest taht the U.S has achieved a nirvana-like state of harmony, far from it. But they do allow us to explain that however real these differences may be, they cannot be brandished as an obstacle to Europe.

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Difference is not an obstacle to unity as long as it avoids two traps :

– refusal to admit differences which leads inescapably to a forced search for a uniformity which is as impossible to achieve as it is oppressive.

– Emphasizing differences, which places a focus on detail rather than a global image.

Harmony and a general overview can only be built upon the contours and charm of particularisms. After all, we are no less French in Lille than in Marseilles, despite the vast differences which combine to form the very identity of our country.

It goes without saying that what is true within our borders has no reason not to apply beyond them. But it would be just as futile to impose the lifestyle of someone from Lille on a inhabitant of Marseilles as to say that there is no Europe because a German does not eat at the same time as a Spaniard.

3 – WILLINGNESS FROM THE TOP, WILLINGNESS FROM THE BOTTOM

History allows us once more to compare Europe with the U.S.

Description : 19downward

Once again the comparison simply takes the U.S. as a control and not as a model example. The United States were born from a conglomeration of immigrants from all over the world, all races and religions. The initial population consisted of deportees : people no longer wanted in Europe. It cas also made up of social and religious groups fleeing oppression. Africa also provided, not always willingly, its contingent of deportees.

Wherever they came from and wherever they arrived, these groups always had the same ojectives : to create a New World, to take over virgin, (or supposedly so), territory. The idea that this paln could deviate, or become incoherent, caused a fratricidal war of which we can still see the traces.

Thus, whatever their race, religion, origin or language might be, all Americans have built and occupied their nation themselves. Their constitution begings with the words « We the people … » and this is not just a turn of phrase.

All U.S. governments have not had to verify but to moderate or organize the one and plan of these diverse peoples.

Crises have brought about two types of action :

– coping with the plan’s casualties;

– coping with failures in the global plan. Today an American is first and foremost American, and only after that a member of his community. « America-love it or Jeave it ». Not accepting the plan, or defending antoher, leads to virtual annihilation.

We have, therefore, a plan conceived by a people and administered more or less happily by the governing class.

Let us take, on the other hand, other examples of federation, starting with the USSR or India. Here the plan is not born of a people or peoples but of an idea controlled by an élite. These federations are based on the varyingly open or generous authority of their creator.

The nation is not formed by a common recognition of a plan, but by the plan’s administration by the people themselves, who may not be wholly satisfied with it.

Description : 16charbon

What is sure is that any slight weakening, lack of clarity or doubt on the part of authority causes the system to break up, and nationalism, regionalism and religious claims to resurge. An economic system’s failure is not the only explanation; it may also be a symptom of it which betrays the absence of a popular plan. Planly, the idea prevails more at the top than at the bottom. The plan is a utopia which federates a political class and not a group of nations.

Of course Europe is neither the United States nor the USSR, but what plan does it follow ? Obviously the idea was conceived through a common economic aim, now permanently recalled in its title (the E.E.C) and the plan of a  few men (Monnet, Schumann, Adenauer.

This plan is at once supranational, idealistic and pragmatic.

The following facts are an illustration of the direct consequences of this plan :

– Voting at European elections rarely exceeds 30% of the electorate.

– Governments still defend their independence in decisions which could have supranational consequences.

The simple permeability of borders provokes repeated local revolts.

Description : 20whosebenef

That which for some represents a plan for harmony and greatness receives merely a reticent and mistrustful response from other Europeans :

-> the power of the governing bodies is attacked

-> executives fear reshuffles and transfers

-> companies fear for their profits and worry about taxation

-> consumers fear rising prices

-> smaller farmers are afraid of losing their market

-> taxpayers worry about the state of their bank accounts.

That is to say that the lower we go (that is the more wide-reaching) the less the European plan makes sense, and its values may even be inverted.

A little under two centuries of unbridled nationalism are not easily effraced Borders are ramparts for which each country bitterly fought, and it will take more than the abolition of border control to wipe out this traumatism.

The city gates were already unguarded. The history of the whole of Europe is built on this fear which confuses the Capitol geese with Verdun.

Thus Europe is not made from the bottom to the top but from the top against the bottom. It will take a lot more than a generation and a great deal of lucidity to reverse this process.

4 – EYES ON OTHER THINGS

The building of Europe also runs up against another very specific phenomenon :

– Great Britain turns equally to the Commonwealth, which is not at all European, as it does to Europe itself.

Description : 16eyes

– France is as concerned with the North-South divide and the African continent as it is with Europe.

– Germany, as we have seen, is just as interested in the Eastern block, al though it claims to play the principal role in Europe.

Europe is watched with much more eager eyes by countries who see it as a real stake, countries viewed rather condescendingly by more powerful nations. For the Portuguese, Greeks, or Turks, Europe is a good bet. Morocco would gladly become part of it …

Meanwhile, the beacon countries reflect Europe’s light towards other horizons. How can one explain to an Englishman or a Frenchman that Spain has assimilated the European concept infinitely better than they have, and that our preoccupations with remote horizons have left what should be our principal concern, becoming a new (European) nation, neglected ?

How can we imagine, today, on the eve of 1993, that Europe is a coherent whole when populations defend their bell towers and States are looking else where.

Even though a policy of small steps and mutual respects must eventually found a European concept, it is no less true that Europe remains an abstract idea which only highly-trained experts can unravel. Thus we will remain for a long time yet in a structure which reflects the British classification of countries so well :

– countries like us (the UK and the Commonwealth)

– civilised countries (Protestant Northern Europe)

– the ret of the world (the Third World including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Algeria, …).

This caricatural view is rife in the larger market research companies, but let us not imagine that it is particular to the British … We French see, on the one hand, those barbaric Protestants and on the other, good Latin types with whom we identify ourselves.

As for the Germans, they gladly make quips such as « 1000 francs, how much is that in real money ?

As for an inhabitant of Milan, he would like you to believe that Rome is Africa.

Description : 27bloodborders

So not only are our eyes turned everywhere except in the right direction, but when we do look at ourselves we tend also to increase the distances between our countries.

Yet all this is merely the paradoxical consequence of a unifying effort which goes back nearly two centuries and which aimed, even then, to form Europe but which was halted halfway creating lumps of states in the fine flour of the Ancien Régime without ever managing to make a European cake.

During that time America built itself, gradually digesting the disparities, flattening the Indian lump along the way, but within a system which was only concerned with its own end. Once again, America is not an example but comparison brings out oru own inaptitude to see ourselves quite simply as we are.

This caricatural view is rife in the larger market research companies, but let us not imagine that it is particular to the British … We French see, on the one hand, those barbaric Protestants and on the other, good Latin types with whom we identify ourselves.

As for the Germans, they gladly make quips such as « 1000 francs, how much is that in real money ?

Description : 18histreverse

As for an inhabitant of Milan, he would like you to believe that Rome is Africa.

So not only are our eyes turned everywhere except in the right direction, but when we do look at ourselves we tend also to increase the distances between our countries.

Yet all this is merely the paradoxical consequence of a unifying effort which goes back nearly two centuries and which aimed, even then, to form Europe but which was halted halfway creating lumps of states in the fine flour of the Ancien Régime without ever managing to make a European cake.

During that time America built itself, gradually digesting the disparities, flattening the Indian lump along the way, but within a system which was only concerned with its own end. Once again, America is not an example but comparison brings out our own inaptitude to see ourselves quite simply as we are.

5 – HAVING AND BEING IN EUROPE

Whether it be founded on the need to form a hierarchy in the world, or to label it in some way, the taxonomic fury in all European countries answers one precise need : to account for the diversity of consumers.

If we call fhis perpetual search for categories a fury it is above all because those involved project categories, invent new divisions and build grids which may claim to be of heuristic value. However, invariably crumbles faced with historical reality and worse still, with the very nature of the grid.

We will not single out any one of these typologies because it is of little use.

If one of these grids is of French origin it will set up values of BEING.

As a social, psychological construction built on the way in which one recognizes oneself in the world, it is perfectly valid, pertinent and intelligent.

Its illustrations speak dearly for themselves, they are like cliches from comedy films.

It is like some sort of sociological casting where everyone finds their place.

Little matter whether the grid in question is upward, that is that we can attribute a given person to a category, and not downward that is that we cannot in any way identify an individual from a category. This is a universal fault and goes way beyond French grids.

Clearly a grid of this type allows an advertiser or the media to lay down a communication outline which is coherent and homogenous, whoever it may concern, wherever it may be and however it may have evolved. A research approach which seeks to explore the social body and it historical and cultural place has very little chance of setting any where with such tools.

No matter !

Of course these models which reduce the world to 2 axes and a few nots have multiplied in British and German research institutes. Even more so in that our neighbours hold their prerogatives dear in understanding the world.

However the proposed models are quite different and are base on HAVING. Having things, assets, relationships with others, a position, a habitat. These grids’ have an important value : they enable us to be implacably pinpointed. The slightest social sign we display, and we are immediately filed into a category !

Description : 23typologies

These grids allow for easy downward identification because ‘having’ is easier to identify than ‘being’. But in an upward direction they are practically unmanageable because they have to account for the variants and atypical deviations of taste and chance.

The theoretical criticisms made concerning grids founded both on having and being itself are merely inward that is in their definition criticism and not outward ones lie the grid concept.

The real problem, therefore is not the dubious or simplistic representativity of these grids. The problem appears suddenly when we try to culturally transfer these grids. Valid or invalid is not the question. It is the very idea that a culture and an exogenous mental structure can be stamped onto our own dear identify which creates a feeling of betrayal, of being caricatured and manipulated by such models and by the very people whom we ask to apply them.

The grid problem lies fundamentally in their synchronic, amnesic character which is untransferable from one typology based on culture to manage another.

It is quite obvious that although this marketing artefact is wildly seductive when we wish ot make a decision, see clearly, globalize, coordinate, it becomes abruptly inoperative when faced with Europe in all its diversity, history and powerful heredity.

Viewed by Europeans who know themselves and sense the wealth and intensity of their common or distinctive history, the typologies of having and being in the present day are suddenly transformed into sad toys which help us to forget that we have forgotten everything.

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Reducing the theme (chocolate Euro-consumers) or the field (teenagers in Europe) does not solve the cultural problem created by the desire to formulate categories in the wealth of vagueness.

Being precise and understanding the European through the prism demand a more sensitive comprehension which considers being, doing, having, and above all the observers way of observing. One must be aware that we do not all observe our own regions of Europe in the some way, and that it is the meeting point of these observations which allows us in the final analysis to build provisional, pragmatic typologies on specific subjects. We know their value : to solve a specific marketing or communication problem.

And then we should forget what we should forget, and remember the frames which enabled us to understand.

6 – GLOBAL AND BANAL?

This Europe of diversity leads the marketing world to question itself on one of the oldest values in its development : global coverage of the market by the same products with the same names, positioning and message.

Three approaches are still so rife today that they have become the obsessional leitmotiv at congresses :

a – The search for the smallest common denominator between the various countries …

Market studies outline usage and attitudes, pinpoint acceptation and adhesion. The links create a consensus which is supposed to define the global message.

But here’s the rub …

Linking two countries singularly reduces potential territory. Linking about ten reduces it to the image of a beautiful, smiling woman displaying the product, and even then we cannot decide if she should be blonde or brunette.

Marketing people and consumers alike did not take long to realize that this sort of approach led to the confines of banality, with a brand image so polished that only a bland, impersonal cliché remained.

b – So then we started to think global and act locally. Each country set about interpreting the European and national findings quite autonomously, superbly indifferent to what their netighbours were concocting. Not only is this approach atrociously costly but it also suffers from irremediable faults :

Description : 09eurodocs

– a large pharmaceutical laboratory is incapable of gathering together all the communications regarding a product. Still worse, it is not even capable of listing the various forms sold from one country to antoher. Worse still, this product is sold in one country for an indication for which it is banned in another, and vice versa.

Poor Euro-patient !

– the French adore bitter plain chocolate, but the Germans prefer sweet milk chocolate. This fact is prudently taken into account by a large manufacturer, but not at all by its distribution centre somewhere in Europe.

One can imagine the result.

The idea was fine; respect for diversity carefully managed on the European scale, until the horrible reality set in !

c – The third idea is much simpler and more radical : the other European countries are more or less negligible variants on our own culture.

Successively and during the same month we saw ourselves posed the same problem for three European countries including France.

« We have carried out a pilot study in our country which has produced excellent results. We would like to see how our recommendations apply to your country. In any case our experts (people who speak the language) think there will be very few differences ». This is sometimes true for products which have very little historical or cultural context, for example, for example … in fact what for example ?

Alright, let’s say that colas, hamburgers or jeans are not really anchored in a context except an exogenous way of life (eat, drink and dress American). As for other things, the slightest scartch reveals an ancestral culture just below the surface.

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For example, the promise of a washing powder can touch the heart of a German woman whilst making a French woman laugh and turning an English woman off.

It would be too easy to convert cultural hegemony into a passport to Europe, as history reminds us so often.

Does an ideal way exist ? Can we imagine a pan-European communication code which avoids banality, atomisation and hegemony ?

The way that we have tried out is paved with tolerance, respect, training and dialogue. It has its rules of course, but no recipes.

7 – FORGET AMNESIA

If we refer to the historical and cultural perspective, the smallest common denominator that we sometimes claim to have found is in itself illusory.

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Let us take an example. Imagine that only the colour blue and the ida of freshness remain for a dairy product. We can hardly go overboard at this idea. But in fact if we dig just a little deeper we will see that blue, freshness and their correlations have nothing like the same resonance for a Greek or a Dane.

So even the minimal consensus is illusory. We must therefore look again at the question from a different angle and stick to it :

How can we offer a variety of items, which make up the whole wealth of a product and / or message’s concept to consumers who will view it through the prism of their diverse historical and cultural backgrounds?

The resulting image can be shifted in different directions. This shift does not stem from what we are not offering but from a whole culture. It is therefore immovable and we must make do with it.

It we take the image of a beer, frozen fish, or a car, it is not the lowest common denominator which roots it in each country but the effect of a rich programme on cultures and very diverse statutes.

In such a perspective it is relatively easy (in fact not as easy as alll that) to identify aspects which are not excessively contradictory to a historical / cultural scenario in order to conserve a sufficiently developed territory country even if it is decoded in relatively different ways.

Description : 22ologists

Thus if the hierarchy of values and codes can vary so easily between Oslo and Lisbon, or Strasbourg and Marseilles, it in no way prevents us from accepting the same product or communication proposal in either place. But it is vital to master these values, codes and their evolution perfectly to be able to function in this dimension.

In order to do this, we must also understand that a Germanologist or a Hispanologist or an « ologist » from any other country is profoundly inapt at integrating and managing this type of phenomenon.

This is quite simply because ologies all have the cardinal fault of measuring likenesses, differences, and tending towards exoticism rather than real specifics (independent of comparison).

Description : 06resorchestra

One does not compare, one mixes; one does not oppose, one enriches; one does not base everything on on’s own cultural model, one offers a proposal and leaves it to others interpretation. Plainly we are not looking to isolate the above average or dominant, but to sound the whole orchestra.

In practice, this translates in the following way:

For a given problem each country explores its own culture, its own history its own market.

The countries then dialogue together on this background information and redefine the problem according to the multiple facets which have been identified.

Each country deals with this problem and analyses it according to its own specifics in order to draw up a national diagnostic.

Description : 24partition

From then one each country is able to present scenarios and interpretations to the rest of Europe.

All that remains is to look for the richest, most specific and global scenario which could suit Europe and which each country can integrate according to its own criteria.

Although this approach is considerably slower and more costly than those generally recommended, its results are considerably richer and more practical. These results are even richer and more valid in that each country knows and affirms its identify while listening, respecting and understanding in depth that of its neighbours on a given subject.

The players in these sessions by no means become experts on their neighbours, but real Europeans who through their pluri-linguistic knowledge, know how to communicate the living substance of Europe with both its harmony and diversity.

8 – TOWARDS A NEO-PROVINCIALISM

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There is no doubt that Lille is closer to Brussels than Marseilles, Nice is nearer to Turin than Brest, Strasbourg nearer to Stuttgart than Bordeaux.

The attenuation of political boundaries reinforces provincial and cultural borders.

We can thus mark out historical, climatic, religious, familial, geographical and even genetic (this has already been done) divides.

The Flemish, Basques, Catalonians, Celts, Savoyards (and these just in France) see and reinstate their regional identity as the national barriers lose their presence. Deep opposition between Atlantic and Mediterranean Europe, between Catholic and Protestant Europe, between the Europe of vegetable oils and animal fats, etc is born.

How can we talk about the sea to countries who say :

– « the cruel sea »

– « Britannia rules the waves »

– « mare nostrum »

– « sea, what’s that ? »

– « the sea, my mother » ?

These divides though so powerfully engrained in history, must not be felt as definitive brakes in the construction of a harmonious Europe.

After all, the Atlantic of Newport has very little to do with that of Key West or the Pacific. The « cuisine » from San Antonio, Texas must be quite inedible on a Bostonian dinner table.

A nation is not a state; it lives through its heterogeneity.

In the same way that the US map represents a whole on which the pachwork of states is drawn, so the European map must also become a whole on which perhaps new borders, which will not detract from its integrity and will reaffirm its diversity, can be drawn.

But to whom can we teach this map today ?

Description : 29losteurope

Who could draw it without making too many mistakes ?

It is true that American children (and quite a lot of adults too) place the USSR in Mexico. But it is also true that quite a lot of extra-Europeans draw the world map without Europe. Paradoxically Europe must rediscover its geographical existence and historical unity in order to find its place on the world map.

And it is not up to the French, Germans nor the English to do it. It is up to Europeans.

Une réflexion au sujet de « Die European Via de Vivre »

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