Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Macau with my family. Like Hong Kong, Macau is a special administrative region of China, and is famous today for being the Las Vegas of the East with big brands such as the Venetian, MGM to the latest Cirque de Soleil shows bombarding its famous gambling strip (the only place where gambling is legal in China). But not long ago Macau was a Portuguese state; in fact it was the first European .settlement in Asia more than 450 years ago.
In the 15th century Macau grew rapidly as a major trading center due to the fact that Chinese traders were not allowed by law to leave China. Macau became a hub where Portuguese traders would exchange cotton from Goa, spices from Malacca and Japanese silver for Chinese goods, and with this influx of trade there was a lot of culture ex change influencing people’s lives. Macau became a center for Christianity in Asia with many converts from Japan, China and Malacca settling there. The influence of these trade routes was huge in every manner.
Even today, after handing over Macau to China in 1999, the influence of the Portuguese traders is everywhere to be seen in the cobbled roads, the churches, the architecture, and the food (see pictures attached), taking a stroll in the old town and ignoring the Chinese faces, you would think you are anywhere in the Mediterranean, and just like the old days in Macau, in our modern times the influence of trade/Business / Brands is as powerful and evident as it was in those old days. In fact, in my opinion Brands and Media (including online mediums) are these days the fastest influencers to any culture.
A few years ago I was on a business trip to Shang Hai and on our first day we tried sampling local food, it wasn’t easy. The next day my colleague discovered a Starbucks around the corner from the hotel, the first thing he said when he entered the café was “Finally, this feels like home!” Now this guy is Makkawi through and through (Makawi from Makkah not Macau) so when exactly did Starbucks !!!become his type of comfort food The influence of brands on people’s life style and Dude Where’s My Culture aspirations is just amazing. Ask a kid in Bombay what’s his favorite food, and you wouldn’t be surprised if chicken curry didn’t even make his list (McDonalds and KFC would definitely be there)! Ask a group of guys in Jeddah to tell us about their dream girls, and they’ll all go .. blonde, blue eyes (Hello!!! This is not California)! Throw in four friends in a café, one will be on his mobile, and the 2nd will be checking his email and the other two although being one meter apart would be chat ting with each other on their BB’s!! Where is all of this coming from?!! It’s the road to Macau all over again.
Brands and media are spending tons of money in flouncing behaviour across borders. They are setting people’s priorities, needs and WANTS. Even Influencing ideologies, Look at themes such as competitiveness, career drive, sexual obsession, independence, social responsibility even homosexuality are on our daily menu.
The good, the bad and the ugly are all up for grabs. It’s a clear challenge, whoever wants a share of this pie need to do well creating .brands that travel across borders Brands and Media are the fastest, possibly most effective tools influencing cultures and although some might argue that the power of media is more influencing, brands compared to media sometimes work in a more subtle way but as effective. Remember the financial crisis, the bankers got all the stick but trust me, the marketers should’ve been equally blamed.
So where does this leave local culture?
Well.. I think there will always be those conservative traditionalists/ or culture romantics who will strive to keep and promote bits and pieces of their local identity and be as true as possible to their routes. On the other hand there will be those yearning to embrace whatever comes their way from across the borders. Then, there are those who live in denial, thinking they can create the right balance, some succeed and some end up shouting “DUDE where’s my culture?!” or I guess they’ll say “Dude “!!!man