- Advertising and Universal Compatibility: Does the Advertising Industry Have a Moral Conscience?
Introduction: Return to Oxford
So, I did my undergraduate studies in Oxford. Oxford, Ohio, that is. That’s where Miami University is located.
I know, I know. This all makes no sense. A university named Miami, that’s not located in Miami? Rather, it’s in a town in Ohio, called Oxford that has absolutely nothing in common with this Oxford. Until today.
I have been to this lovely university before. In 1993, when I lived in Brussels, I brought my family here on our way up to the Outer Hebrides. We spent the night in Oxford, walking through this magnificent university in the summertime. It was a lovely first impression.
My second impression of this university is formed by the professional intersections of people I have met over the years who attended Oxford. I always tell the Oxford alumni I meet along the way that I have found Oxford graduates to be most friendly and interesting. To me, Oxonians are universally companionable—they are compatible with all types of people. I seem to get along better with them than Cantabrigians or people who went to INSEAD or Harvard. I don’t really know why. Maybe it is because I was an art major and have my Masters degree in communications. I really can’t explain it, but I have always gotten along well with Oxford graduates.
So, I venture into my talk tonight with the confidence that we are Oxonians, in reality, in spirit and by sheer coincidence.
Global Perspective: “Man from Nowhere”
I lived and worked in Brussels for 6 years in the 1990s. Working in Europe, at that time, was a mind-opening experience. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union opened up to western brands, advertising, and new ideas.
Working with clients like Procter & Gamble, Duracell, UBS and others, my advertising agency responsibilities took me all over the world. I was involved in introducing toothpaste brands in Russia, Israel, Turkey, and China. We introduced Pampers disposable diapers virtually everywhere. And one of the biggest challenges was introducing a feminine hygiene brand called Always, all over the planet.
While creating advertising and marketing programs for brands like toothpaste, laundry powders, diapers and feminine pads may not sound exciting to you, it gave me an incredibly interesting window from which to observe and learn about consumers from different cultures.
When you are engaged in advertising something as highly sensitive as feminine protection, you cannot take a given society’s culture lightly. Respecting it, and understanding its differences within historic, social, and religious contexts, makes a huge impact on the success or failure of your advertising. Finding the truth in how to present the benefits of a product like feminine pads and “nappies” was an enlightening experience. I was so consumed by what I was learning at that time, that some of the women I worked with said I was in touch with my feminine side.
Advertising took me all over the world, particularly into the developing markets of China, Latin America, India, and Africa. It took me to in-home visits and retail shops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India, and rural China, all with the goal of better understanding global consumers.
More recently, my base of operations and explorations was in Tokyo, where I worked on Nissan’s global automobile advertising. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s CEO, spoke here last year in honor of the Nissan Institute’s 25th anniversary at Oxford. I was pleased to work with Mr. Ghosn and his team at Nissan before I moved into a “corporate” role at Omnicom a little over a year ago.
My role at Omnicom is simple. I help our clients and Omnicom companies be more globally sensitive, collaborative, and effective. I travel about 50% of the time, and I work in every region of the global economy.
Some people I work with know I am permanently jet-lagged. You really do get disoriented. Like the movie, the experience of global brand-building can leave you feeling a bit lost at times.