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It’s John Wayne’s World

I want to test an argument on you. I have been watching a series of IT industry briefing videos, all very expensive, very lucid and above all, very American in flavour.

Last week, I returned from a flying visit to the Middle East, where I gave a keynote speech on eGovernment at a regional IT conference. All sorts of interesting people were in town, the Iranian President, the sixth Fleet and lots of what I took to be Texan oil workers in large hats.

What I found interesting was how popular the British still appeared to be in contrast with our American coalition allies and how the young American service people all looked and dressed very much like members of the IT industry. Of course, people could have simply been being nice to me but on the other hand, the British were not perceived as a willing participant in the invasion of Iraq; the special relationship that goes back to Lawrence of Arabia appears to be partly intact. Behind the diplomatic smiles and the lavish Middle Eastern courtesy, the Americans and there were none at the conference, were uniformly unpopular.

Here’s my argument and you can tell me through the mailbag, whether you believe it holds any water.

Much, if not most of the material we see as an industry has some if not mostly US origination. Videos, marketing materials, you name it. In fact, some of the work I do often involves taking such US-sourced material and re-working it into something that is a little more digestible by a more eclectic European audience.

Big American IT companies have, for years, relied on the production of ‘Star Trek-style’ videos, which tell their partners and customers “how it’s going to be”, in a homily mid-western fashion, best seen in the speeches of George W.Bush. And there lies the problem, because if you happen to be French or German or from around sixty-eight other countries, this easy Western style of presentation has, all of a sudden, come to define the sharp rift between one dominant global culture and everyone else’s

I believe that American companies are going to have think seriously about their marketing materials and messages in future. Historically, a ‘Made in the USA’ badge or message, carried with it, a powerful credibility that compensated for any intrinsic shortfall in sophistication. Today however, I think US companies are going to have to shed their more obvious American touch abroad, because of the deeper association with the political events of this year.

There’s a difference between talking to and talking down to one’s customers and quick video cutting back and forth between American product managers might have a subconscious impact on a European audience, suggesting that only Americans know ‘what’s what’ and the remainder are there to make-up the numbers.

Following the events of the last six months, would you also like to see more materials and video presentations that aren’t just ‘cool’ but have a little more intellectual presence? Where Europeans, rather than Americans, communicate corporate information or have we surrendered to the Hollywood style of IT so completely, that any question of challenging the hidden politics of communication is an irrelevance?


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