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Reflecting on Global Brand Tracking and Culture Codes

June 9, 2010

The past three weeks have flow by, it feels like just yesterday that I landed in London and began my adventure. I have seen so many sights, walked so many miles, and slept…well not that much. This experience has taught me a lot about ethnography, culture, and advertising. Within my sector there were several patterns which emerged in both the UK and Prague. I think the one pattern that stood out the most to me was that both countries had a much lower emphasis on brands. While big name brands were in fact present, I felt as though the consumers in both the UK and Czech Republic were not as concerned about where they were buying their clothes and what it said about them. Fashion did not resonate as a status symbol in Europe as much as I feel fashion and status go together in the states. In the UK we saw how fashion represented the individual and connected this ideal to Gin Martini. People used their clothes as a form of self expression, while big labels were popular, people bought clothing at these stores because they liked the product, how it looked, and how it was a reflection of their personality. In Prague we saw how Czechs were more concerned with functionality of a product and how it would benefit them. Czechs didn’t care about buying a brand because of what it would say about their status, they wanted a product that had longevity, and multiple uses. Another pattern I saw as far as shopping habits and consumer behavior is that consumers in both the UK and Prague were more prone to go shopping alone or with one other person. I think in the US, shopping is a much more social experience where groups of people will go shopping together and be more interactive about shopping. Finally I think one other very important pattern that emerged was price consciousness. I think in America, going back to buying a product for the brand, we are more inclined to spend 20+ dollars on a simple t-shirt when we know that we can get the same thing somewhere else for only $6, we’d rather have something that’s branded versus something generic. In the UK, I feel like people may be willing to spend top dollar but I think it has more to do with the quality over the brand itself. People in the UK will spend money if it means better quality however if there is a cheaper alternative they’d rather buy that instead. In Prague consumers are very price sensitive therefore they want the most “bang for their buck.” Czechs do not have the disposable income to splurge on major labels just for the sake of have brand name items. Czechs are going to buy clothes that are functional and practical for their daily lives. They will only spend the extra money on expensive brands if they can see the direct benefit and longevity that will come from the purchase. While the level of price consciousness varied, I feel to some degree price played a factor in purchasing decisions for fashion.

This was my first time outside of the country and while I’ve interacted with people from other countries back in the states, it is a totally different experience to interact with other cultures in their country. You get to observe and learn first hand about how other cultures go about their day to day lives. Even in the United Kingdom as an English speaking country there were cultural differences. Since we were studying fashion, I noticed differences in shopping habits the most. However I also noticed differences in eating out, alcohol consumption, dancing, and transportation among other things as well. I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading Culture Codes on my flight to London. After reading the book though I was actually excited to begin doing my own ethnography and finding my own Culture Codes. I learned through this experience to look at the bigger picture but to also use all of my senses to understand all of its elements. In the beginning I had a difficult time really understanding the process of the codes and applying them to my observations. Overtime I realized that I really had to immerse myself in the culture in order to pinpoint the code. London was a huge learning process coming up with my own culture code, and then collaborating with my group to come up with a culture code that really fit the UK. I think in the end our code of “Gin Martini” was a close fit to the shopping habits in the UK.

In Prague, I got to try out the codes with a fresh perspective on a new culture. The Czech Republic was a completely different experience from the UK. Not only was the language different but the attitudes and customs of the culture were very different from what I’m use to. I found it fascinating that many of the people we met in Prague all said that the Czechs do not show emotion and divulged their feelings as much as Americans and other cultures. Another cultural difference I particularly snuggled with was not putting my foot on a seat while sitting. After learning that it was very disrespectful to put your feet on anything meant to be sat upon I really had to try to not do so because I often sit with one foot tucked up on my chair. Back in the states you really wouldn’t be criticized for sitting in that way unless you were in a upscale or professional setting. In terms of fashion, Czechs were a bit easier to understand when it can to a culture code.  Perhaps it was because we had been working on our ethnographic skills for a few weeks once we got there but I feel as though an understanding of the culture’s shopping habits and attitudes were much more apparent. Functionality seemed like an obvious choice because it was a word that encompassed everything we had seen. In Prague my group and myself learned how a culture code doesn’t need to be a metaphor to be successful. Sometime a culture code is just a word that sums up the overall sector for that culture.

This trip has been an amazing experience. As a newbie to international travel, I think this class was the perfect way to dive into other cultures. If I had gone to the UK, Prague, or any other country on a leisure trip for my first international trip I don’t think I would have taken the time to observe and appreciate the cultural differences as much. This class was fantastic because it allowed me to do all the touristy sight-seeing aspects of a European adventure, but I was also able to learn about my future industry by visiting agencies and learn a new skill of doing ethnographic research. Ethnography was a great tool to use when studying another culture because it requires total immersion. I think by immersing yourself in a culture is the best way to learn about them. I took full advantage of this by doing some of my own exploration on my own going to place I want to see and taking sights in on my own. Sometimes when traveling with other people you can get rushed with other schedules and agendas and miss out on certain aspects of a country. I also felt that eating the food from the local region and trying new foods is another important part to understanding a culture. I feel that food tells a lot about a culture from the spices, to preparation, to the ingredients used. It can inform you about the economy, the local agriculture, religion, and climate. In London I found it fascinating that the UK really doesn’t have much of their own cuisine apart from fish and chips and typical pub food. I loved how London turned out to be such a melting pot of foods from Indian, to Japanese, to Turkish and Italian. I had never tried Indian or Turkish food before and embraced the opportunity. In the Czech Republic I was excited to try some authentic Czech food. Pork and Dumplings, Goulash, Wild Boar, and even a new spin on a “cheeseburger” were all new experiences. In my future travels I will be much more in tuned to the local people and how they interact because of this trip. I have learned, experienced, and gained an appreciation for other cultures after going on this trip.

~Lauren

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