The Marketing Power Of Stereotypes

Italians are hot-headed. Brits can't cook ... Sure they're offensive. But as marketing experts are aware, stereotypes can also help forge a group's shared identity.

UK float at a parade in Sitges, Spain
UK float at a parade in Sitges, Spain
Pedro Viveros


BOGOTÁ — Is it fair to say that the defining social and cultural trait of Mexican people is to endure hardship? Or that Venezuelans all want to look glamorous? We tend to dislike stereotypes because of how they clump people together, how they confine individuals in exclusive groups that can even be offensive.

Yet in a world that is increasingly interconnected and hyper-classified, day-to-day life needs labels to arrange every new division in society. The urge to categorize is so strong that some marketing experts look to identify specific words that strategically identify what people or nations are, or want to be.

Societies, regardless of their origins or history, create culture. The rituals, evolutions, revolutions, failures and dialectics — the essence basically — are translated into symbols that a society carries with it, willingly or not. Governments all over the world know that, and for some decades now have tried to identify and encapsulate that essence to help cement the identity of their individual country, boost its potential and market it.

Day-to-day life needs labels to arrange every new division in society.

The same product can't be marketed using the same tactics to a German or a Frenchman. Each nation has a cultural voice that needs to be heard. One could not readily understand the mind of a Vietnamese without recalling that the country fought a more than 20-year war and was partly occupied by the United States of America. Nowadays, because of cross-cultural currents, the speed of communication, and for simplicity's sake, one needs to recognize a basis of each nation, if only as a first step toward understanding other communities.​

Evidently such ideas generate arguments and attacks. The marketing expert Clotaire Rapaille states in his book The Culture Code that there are bound to be uncontrollable flows of new or strange ideas, contradictions and questions. The book cites certain words that signal belonging to a particular place. The French, for example, are identified as thinkers in search of an idea; the English as a people on a permanent quest to become somebody on this Earth.

870 Dutch satirical cartoon of Europe — Source: Wikimedia Commons

The list goes on: Germans are identified as obedient, the Spanish as eternal improvisers, and the Portuguese as lords of commercial exchange. The Americans are associated with the gift of doing things. The Japanese are seen as willing to do whatever it takes to triumph. Australians stand out for their survival instinct. Each of these traits is developed with a broad sense of marketing because, inevitably, you need to show what you are selling.

Rapaille is incidentally to blame if you drink coffee not for the taste of its grains, but the aroma. Because after analyzing the culture around coffee and its consumption, the French author concluded that the sense of smell is more powerful than taste when a consumer tribe approaches the delectable drink. He would not have concluded this had he not walked through and studied the conditions of the coffee universe. That is the value of having specific words to stereotype millions and millions of people.

Defining a nationality this way can even help offset realities that are in fact quite depressing.

Latin Americans also have their specific character traits, or so they say. The Brazilians are resourceful — they always find a way of fixing things. The Argentines are seen as proud. Chileans are prudish, and Colombians are associated with an idea that we've been chasing for the last 200 years: living.

In some cases, defining a nationality this way, for strictly commercial purposes, can even help offset realities that are in fact quite depressing. And if you disagree with what I have written here, go read Rapaille — or maybe talk to a psychologist.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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