Farewell to the best group of brand trackers I’ve had.

Though I will try in a few words to sing their praises, my summaries will not do their work justice. Check it out in detail under Cultural Codes.

A Mobile

Mobil: Sarah Beattie, Sarah Mielke, Ryan Bisceglia & Adam Nash

My mobil team’s work was exemplary. They pushed hard in both countries and engaged with culture at every turn. They framed what they learned using the course materials from readings to agency talks and came up with compelling culture codes for mobile: books in Britain and tram in the Czech Republic.

B Savory Snacks

Savory Snacks: Christine Finger, Alex Elsey, Katera Berent & Marcia Kreifels

My savory snackers were undeterred ethnographers, even when the going got tough in the Czech Republic they plunged in and learned from what was around them. They were ceaselessly engaged with discovering the code for savory snacks and their cultural codes were spot on: mates in Britain and misfit in the Czech Republic.

C Shoes

Shoes: Nicole Sedlacek, Shaley Began, Gabby Kailas & Mac Mischke

My shoe team was a highly focused group of explores. They took jewels of wisdom from agency visits and applied them to their cultural explorations. They pounded the pavement and worked tirelessly to discover the cultural nuances that led to insights that opened them up to their strong codes for shoes: speech in Britain and cottage in the Czech Republic.

D Travel JG

Travel Blogger: Adam Pulte with me and my wonderful TA, Alex Lahr

Adam was our resident travel blogger. He joined the class to explore culture through the eyes of a journalist. His immersion into the world of cultural codes led to some of the most resonant cultural insights. He brought innovative perspectives and kept us honest.

To my students – each of you ventured into uncomfortable places and come out with  deeper cultural understanding, fresh insights and, I hope, a bit of personal growth. I truly appreciated your commitment and admired your courage to take risks in unknown cultures. Bravo!

Thanks for making this a great class. I wish you well.



The Czechs and Coded Contradictions

I say black. You say white.                                                                                                                                                         You say beer. I say wine.                                                                                                                                                             I say happy. You say sad.                                                                                                                                                       You say dog. I say cat.

And always with a knowing wink and an ironic nod.

McCann croppedThis is the Czech Republic. A country and culture of contradictions, the meanings of which are often inaccessible to outsiders. For the past ten days we have immersed ourselves in the Czech Republic. We have explored Prague (it is too beautiful to miss), Brno (it is too desolate to disregard) and Beroun (it is too quiet to forego), each with ethnographic treasurers abound. We visited two global clients: Mondelez and Unilever and three ad agencies: Ogilvy – Agency of the Year, Leo Burnett and McCann with it’s wall of cock-eyed awards.

The more I learn about Czech culture the more normal the awards wall at McCann appears.

Personally, it is my third visit and still the cultural contrasts, the irony of nearly all things surprise me. This land was invaded and occupied during World War II, and on and off in the centuries that preceded the war. World War II was followed by a brief glimpse of democracy from 1945-48. Then communism arrived. Not until the velvet revolution of 1989 did the Czechs breathe anatomy and freedom. Its history fuels a deep and abiding cultural distrust, with displays of apathy from silence to brusque irony. But the truth behind these markers is not what you think.

As Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code, has said, people do not tell you what they actually think. Czechs are no different. But they are more extreme in this regard. No self-respecting Czech will tell you his or her personal truth. In fact, no self-respecting Czech is even likely to admit to speaking English, unless they are working and it is required or they know you. And even then, there will always be a wink and a nod.

This is not just an us versus them behavior. It is a cultural norm that pervades interactions among themselves. I once termed it “cultural shyness.” It may be. But on my third visit I have come to think of it as an all too knowing nod to the absurdity of their history, to life as they know it.

It shows itself in their advertising with over the top ironic self-deprecating humor. Consider Bohemia chips sending a Czech guy to Austin Texas, behaving ridiculously while handing out bags of Czech potato chips unavailable in America. It bubbles up in a barrage of characters and creators in sectors we Americans would never dream of. How about a cheetah (think Tony the Tiger) for Gepard mortgage services? And it reveals itself in the repackaging of the Clavin capsule (Czech Viagra) in the upright position.

BrnoSuffice to say that the contradictions that surround you as you travel this lush land are beloved. They amuse the Czechs. And so, there is no surprise that while riding the bus across the country as the attendant rattles on in Czech, the screen in front of you provides the following English translation: “Dear Passengers, please pay attention to the announcements that is being broadcast. Thank you.” You smile and think, but of course.

Nor was I surprised when in Brno two beautiful baroque buildings frame a lovely modernist structure. Indeed its colors compliment its neighbors and the rectangular shapes on the facade rather musically play off the windows of the adjoining buildings. Yet, it is a massive contradiction to the nearby structures. It is so Czech.

B EsclatorIn the end it is the escalators in Prague’s metros that perfectly signify the Czech cultural code of contradiction. The stairs move at one speed, while the rail travels at an all together different speed. But, of course, it is subtle. Keep your feet on the step and your hand on the rail and – with a wink and a nod – you will arrive at your destination on your face or your derriere, surly not upright.

In the Czech Republic you must always chose. In the metro the Czech generally choose their feet.


Agency of the Year

Outside oOn Wednesday we visited Ogilvy Prague, Agency of the Year. Will Rust, executive creative director, took us on walk through Central European advertising culture, beginning with Habitat for Humanity, Hungary. With very little money, this integrated campaign changed the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarians. The Georgian Gurieli Tea case illustrated the power of design. While, Commerzbank Ukraine demonstrated the successful marriage of German and Ukrainian bank brands, leveraging a witty and brilliant use of stereotypes to drive home the value of the merger.

Culminating with the Czech Republic, Rust showed campaigns from beer to vodka and pharmaceuticals to radio one smarter than the next.  Amundsen used historic irony to tap brilliantly into Czech cultural sensibilities. For Pilsner Urquell Ogivly extended the brand’s cultural story with a new twist. A packaging redesign for Clavin brilliantly demonstrated the product attributes with a wink and a nod – and ROI that far out performed expectations, much like Clavin.

Inside OEvery case was culturally insightful and creatively brilliant. On the surface it might seem that the agency’s grasp on the Czech culture of apathy, merged with strategic wisdom and whip-smart creative might be the key. Yet, I think it is Rust’s philosophy on hiring that nails it. The number one quality he looks for in a new creative hire is attitude – the ability to keep one’s eyes open, always being willing to learn.

I must say, I also admire Rust’s commitment to diversity in creative departments. He spoke with passionate commitment about raising creative women up to take seats at the management table and to expand the pool of talent to reflect the diversity of the markets Ogilvy serves.

Thanks for an inspirational afternoon. I look forward to seeing you in 2016.


farmers market

On Saturday we had a great cultural experience of going to a farmers market. I was able to try some great authentic food that I was otherwise never able to experience. I was able to learn from the people who worked their what some of their first memories of the market were as well as what the market means to many of them individually. The first man I talked spoke only in broken English but I was able to gather important information from him. He travels from outside the city every Saturday morning to sell sausage, potatoes, and other types of authentic Czech at the farmers market to supplement his income. His first memory of the farmers market was when he first started to have a booth 8 years ago. The market is important to him because he loves to make food and relays on the money he makes from it.

The second person I talked to was a man at the smoothie who operated it with his wife. The stand is important to him because he is able to advertise and sell his product in another location from where he normally sells it. He was unable to single out a first memory of coming to the market but now it is a place he brings his daughter to have fun. He also said this place is important to him because many of his friends have stands also so it is a type of community gathering place.

The third person I talked to was a woman with her kid she told me that she comes here because its real Czech food similar to what she ate as a child and she wants her son to experience the same food. Her son also likes watching the toy trucks drive around and preform tasks. Her first memory of the farmers market was her first time here a couple years ago and she tried food that reminded her of her childhood. The farmers market was interesting because all the local people were there for different reasons, which made their own community in the end.

A Town Of Leisure


A few days ago we went to Brno, a city two and a half hours by bus south of Prague. It was a much smaller city than Prague but much bigger than Beroun which we visited the day before. We learned from both our tour guide in Prague and our tour guide in Brno that the people in both cities are very different as well, mainly the pace at which they did things.

Our tour guide in Prague, who was native to the city, was always ahead of us and had to wait for us to catch up to us. This was the exact opposite while we were in Brno. I was so far ahead of our tour guide that I was getting a little annoyed at how slow he was moving. I also noticed this while we were conducting our ethnographic exercise.

We were told to sit in a place in the city and watch five people go about their daily business. I chose to sit in a coffee shop right in the town square. The first thing I noticed was how slow everybody was moving. A couple in their 30s walked in, walked very slowly to the dessert window, looked at it for about 5 minuets and then decided to walk out without even purchasing anything. It seemed as if they were on a nice Sunday stroll through town, but it was the middle of the day on a Thursday.

The person I noticed was a man starring at me from a table about 20 feet from me. This might have been because he noticed me writing things down in my notebook, or that I looked American. But this got me to watch him. He was also doing this at a slower pace. He was sitting there, slowly drinking his coffee and reading the newspaper. He ordered an apple strudel about 20 minuets after he had finished his coffee.

After about 5 minuets of watching the man with his coffee, a woman with her child walked in. They both sat down a little bit further away from me than the man. They moved a little bit faster than both the previous people I was watching, but still at a slower pace than you see in Prague. The child only ordered ice cream while that woman ordered a coffee with a cheesecake. They sat at the table for about 15 minuets before departing to continue on their journey.

I went to go sit out side after I got a scoop of ice cream and watched some people walk by. I first locked in on a woman in her mid 20s who came up to the ice cream window and ordered a scoop. I took her about 5 minuets to decide what she wanted compared to the about 30 seconds for me. She then just went along on her way down the street before going into a clothing store a few buildings down.

The final person I watched was a man in his mid 40s who came out of the shop. I did not see him in the store because there was an upstairs and I am assuming that is where he was. He was with his kid and walked toward the astronomical clock in the middle of the square. He pointed at it, probably explained to his kid what it was and then walked out of the square to where I could not see him anymore.

If there is one thing that I noticed in Brno it was how slow everybody moved compared to Prague. The people in Prague don’t even move at a fast pace so you can just imagine on how slow everyone was moving in Brno. If I had to describe Brno in one word it would be leisure because everyone in that town seemed to be on a leisurely stroll with no worries in the world.


The Search for Something Savory

10363702_10204055754619622_5351272892481472454_nOur exploration of snacks in Czech culture has been a whirlwind of different ideas and contradictory observations. Brand-name savory snacks in Czech are mostly limited to chips and salty. They don’t have as noticeable a space as crisps had in England or what we are familiar with in the United States. This lack of a serious emphasis towards savory snacks in this country has forced us to dig deep into the culture to unlock our insight that MISFIT is the culture code for savory snacks in the Czech Republic.

MISFIT is centralized around the idea that savory snacks just don’t quite fit into the Czech Republic’s culture. A person who is categorized as a misfit isn’t popular or overly social. Snacks here are the same way. They lack prevalence–they’re just kind of there. They can be found in supermarkets and vending machines, but it is usually a small incopsicous place. However, its not that these snacks are thrown into these lowkey places because are disliked. People are content with them; however, a savory snack isn’t the first thing that crosses the mind of a Czech person when asked about snacking habits. We have found that snacks are common snacks arer usually homemade, mostly baked goods and sweets. Because savory snacks in this culture are not disliked but not embraced as a major snacking options, a savory snack is a misfit in the Czech snack realm. Continue reading

A Silent Observer

imageAfter exploring Czech’s second largest city of Brno we began our last ethnographic exercise: silent five people and take notes on what you see. For this assignment I went to two separate places to spy on the culture of Czech people. Since I’m part of the savory snack team I wanted to observe people snacking.

The first place I visited was the was a restaurant with a gelato stand. The place I was sitting wasn’t very busy, so I observed one of the waiters go about his work. Throughout the time I was observing him he seemed like he was tring really hard to keep busy. He was constantly looking down as he worked giving me the impression that he wasn’t super comfer table at his job. His actions really gave me the feeling th at he was new at his job and wasn’t sure how he was going to fit in.

After snacking on my gelato I ventured of to find a adorable cafe within a mall. I made the rest of my observations here. One of the first things I noticed walking in was how quiet and clean everything felt. There was a crisp air about the place, and the people inside were either silently enjoying their coffee and treats or quietly conversing with a friend.

In the cafe there were no groups larger than three sitting together, and most people were just sitting by themselves. I observed and took notes on three people who were sitting alone and one pair of ladies sitting together chatting.

The most interesting thing that I noticed is that the behavior of all these people seemed about the same. Although the two ladies sitting together were chatting they seemed just as quiet and relaxed as all the people around them eating alone. I think this kind of observation really speaks to the attitude of the cafe as a whole. Instead of rushing to get coffee or a quick snack it’s more common to slow down and relax. My key insight here is that it is that coffee and treats are much more of a personal enjoyment than a social thing for thsee people.


Everyone is in their own world in Brno

A few days ago we got up early and went to the second largest city in the Czech Republic – Brno. Brno was about two and a half hours outside of Prague by bus. Brno was much different from Prague – almost industrial. The exercise we had to do in Brno was to sit down and watch five different people and observe what they do.

The snackers went to get Gelato together and sat down in the small little coffee shop. I first observed two men in there 30’s. They both looked very uncomfortable around each other. They would look away, lean away, awkwardly laugh and pretend the other wasn’t there. I was very curious to know what was going on and why.

The second person I watched was a man reading a newspaper and he looked like he was in his 40’s. He was drinking coffee and talking with the waitress. After a while he ordered a dessert. He kept looking at me and saw that I was watching him. We made awkward eye contact a few more times after that. It looked like he was just there to read the newspaper and unwind.

I then saw a mother and a small child – she was probably about four years old eating a dessert while the mother had coffee. You could easily tell the little girl was cranky and restless. She kept running around and hanging on the tables and chairs. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but her tone was very whiny.

We left the coffee shop and went off on our own. I sat down in the middle of the square and watched people pass by the fountain. I saw another girl on a bench near me just sitting there. It looked like she was waiting for someone but they never came. A few times she awkwardly looked at her phone. After 15 minutes she got up and walked away.  She seemed sad and disappointed.

Lastly I watched these two children probably about 10 or 11 years old playing in the fountain. 20140605_112635 1They kept splashing each other and I didn’t see a parent in sight. After they were relatively wet – a parent yelled at them and they left. They looked so happy and were just there to have fun.

It was interesting to watch people from Brno – I got the feeling that everyone isn’t in a hurry and they want to take things slow. The social cues were different with every person I observed. The people of Brno really don’t care what people think of you – they seem to be in their own world and doing their own thing.

– Christine

Community Feelin

Instead of just staying in Prague we went to experience the small town Beroun that had about 16 thousand people living there. It was a huge change from Prague – big city to small town. We took an hour train ride to Beroun and it was about 10am so it wasn’t very busy. The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. They didn’t have all the cars, trams, and loud noises from the big city. Because we were there mid morning, there weren’t very many people out and about. 20140604_100027 1

There were a lot of older retired people – probably because they don’t enjoy Prague as much because it’s too big. They are retired and want to relax and this town is perfect for that. In the city center there was a farmers market – it had mainly food and clothing for the older generations. In Beroun we saw a lot of mothers walking around with small children. As my group was walking around we noticed the odd cross walk signs. They were blue with a child and a parent like pairing. We thought that really helped prove the community and family feel. It was easy to tell that this was a really close knit community town.

My group sat down at a local cafe and surprisingly our waiter spoke a little bit of English unlike everyone else in the town. We sat outside and got some breakfast as we watched two older women smoke and have a coffee together. We watched two separate people walk by that knew the two older women. Both stopped and sat down to have a conversation. This just proved our community theory even more.

It was crazy to see the differences between Prague and Beroun. All of the people we talked to said Prague is Prague and the small towns are Czech. I think this is true it’s hard to base the entire country off the big city. Although I love Prague it was nice to see other parts of the Czech Republic.