When I moved from running an agency network in Latin America to my current role in Europe, I expected to find a different world. And to a certain extent, I did.
On the surface, Europeans – and for the time being we can still include the UK in that grouping – have many different attitudes and behaviours to those of my Latin colleagues.
But over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that blending the best of both cultures may result in an ideal mix from a marketing and communications point of view. Here are some of the reasons why.
The language factor
The first big difference is how language works. With the exception of Brazil, Latin Americans share a common language. Since language is an integral part of culture, communicating across Latin America as a marketing communications professional is a reasonably smooth process. Even with the language difference in Brazil I can make myself understood, making life much easier when I lived there for a while.
With 38 languages across one continent, Europe presents related communications issues. In Europe it is more difficult to have an impact on a regional level with a single message.
And although the English language has been (somewhat grudgingly) adopted as the cement between nations, there are still many gaps in the mortar.
There is also a universal Latin American "taste" in terms of music and popular culture, whereas in Europe there are distinct local preferences.
But that leaves an opening for brands. Data from our global intelligence unit, McCann Truth Central, has shown that Europeans are also far more likely to embrace food and fashion from overseas.
Europeans suggest 72% of food they eat derives from other countries’ cuisines, compared with 24% for Latin Americans.
Latin Americans say only 4% of fashion brands they wear originate from other countries – in Europe, it’s 64%.
Our differences, as well as our similarities, inevitably make themselves felt in our advertising. Latin Americans love to discuss and debate, often at high volume; and our advertising can be similarly garrulous.
In comparison, Europeans are more restrained and discreet. It is fair to say, though, that both cultures revere literature and wordplay. Once again, it may be that the sweet spot in border-crossing advertising is a blend of both Latin and European styles.
Regulation vs. ambition
Another big difference between the regions – with major implications for our industry – is employment law.
Europe is a wealthy and successful region: its GDP per capita is double that of Latin America. Many of its markets are among the world’s top 50 economies, which brings social benefits in terms of employment and quality of life.
In some cases however this has led to restrictive labour practices.
In many European countries, such as France, Italy and the Netherlands, the business of hiring and firing workers is complex and bureaucratic - creating a challenging environment in which to operate.
They discourage external investment and prevent recruitment of the best talent. Latin America is far more flexible, which gives us reason to believe we can expect more creativity and innovation from the region in the future. I’d love to see LATAM thrive, but let’s also sweep away restrictions to ensure that innovation remains strong in Europe’s most creative capitals.
The way we work also differs. Across Latin America, the workplace culture is informal. Schedules are not always adhered to; the environment can be less productive.
European countries span a range of positions on the efficiency scale, but in my experience are generally focused on efficiency. The French and the Italians, who are more informal, always deliver when the pressure is on. Even laid-back Spain, with its late nights and long lunches, is adapting to today’s "always-on" work environment.
Creativity often thrives in a looser structure. Perhaps it’s wise to ensure that a touch of Latin flexibility is built in. Not coincidentally, Latin Americans prize creativity more than Europeans.
Almost half (44%) of Latin Americans* believe that creativity is important for success, compared to 36% of European people.
Although it can be argued that innovation is stimulated by investment, creativity is far less dependent on economic factors. Developed markets such as the US and the UK are highly creative, but so are emerging ones like Argentina, Peru and Romania.
Creative cultures can be found in societies that are diverse, youthful and democratic. A strong sense of humour helps, too, as seen in Argentina, Brazil and of course the UK.
United deep down
Many of our fundamental attitudes are similar. We all value good health and family. The 18 to 24-year-olds of Europe and Latin America say that they define themselves more by their hobbies and interests than their jobs.
Almost 70% of young people in Europe and 80% of the same age group in Latin America believe that "the blending of cultures leads to a better world".
Cheeringly, more than 90% of people in both regions agree that they have a responsibility to make a positive contribution to the community.
Ultimately, whether in Europe or Latin America, our clients want the same thing: great ideas, big sales and top line growth. As always, the challenge for brands is navigating the variation in natures and behaviours that dictate consumers’ responses to them. But the good news is that these differences are tactical rather than strategic.
In a global economy, building closer creative ties between LATAM and Europe can only help all of us be better marketers, whether working for global, regional or local clients. It gets results. Take it from a Chilean named Walker.
Pablo Walker is president of McCann Worldgroup Europe. He was president of McCann Worldgroup Latin America & Caribbean until 2014.