Cellphones in the Bullring
Globalization, tribalism force marketers to think globally and act locally

SEVILLE -The most dangerous moment in a bullfight comes when the matador lines up his prey for the kill. To please crowd, he must jump between the bull's horns, and plunge his sword between its shoulder blades, in the hope of piercing its heart.

If the bull turns his head in the middle of the matador's leap, his horn will end up in a very unfortunate part of the bullfighter's anatomy. So when the time comes, the 10,000 strong crowd at Seville's Plaza de Toros comes to an absolute silence - that is, except for odd cellphone going off.

Although no matador has yet been gored due to a bull turning his head to look in the direction of a ringing cellphone, the presence of this modern technology, at a spectacle whose roots date back to the Roman Empire illustrates a key dilemma facing global marketers.

Despite forces pulling international economies closer together and making us more alike, there remain strong regional influences compelling marketers to take account of local tastes. As the old Greenpeace slogan says, they must "think globally and act locally."

By selling globally, companies can expand markets and get better returns to scale on their product lines. That's why when businessmen travel, they are always looking for the big idea that has taken off in one part of the world but not elsewhere. The problem is that often, it is local circumstances that explain why a product's popularity has not spread.

Bullfighting is a perfect example. In Spain the spectacle continues to grow, with the last decade seeing the construction of several bullrings, and the emergence of new star matadors such as José Tomas and Julian "El Juli" Lopez.

But entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck by importing and marketing bullfighting products - such as videos, posters and accessories -- into Canada, had better be careful. Bullfighting has deep roots in Spanish and Latin culture. But people in many other countries abhor the practice.

Spain is filled with fabulous business opportunities, but foreigners trying to take advantage of them can lose a ton of money if they are not careful. For example, it would appear at first glance that Spain would be a great place to sell paint. Because from Gibraltar all the way to Madrid, it seems every building is white.

But paint manufacturers - thinking about exporting --who imagine they can teach the Spanish a thing or two about decoration should take heed. Those buildings are white for a reason. During the summer months temperatures in southern Spain can rise to as high as 40 degrees Celsius, and the white paint attenuates the effect of the sun's rays and helps keep the buildings cool.

Another feature in Spanish architecture that look's good until you get a little closer, is the absence of pointed roofs. In their place, many houses, particularly in the Andalusian capital of Seville, have flat rooftop decks, many of them with swimming pools.

These decks function as an extra room to people's houses. But contractors looking to replicate the phenomenon in Canada will get a big surprise since the snow that accumulates here during the winter makes flat roofs far less feasible economically.

Another noticeable Sevillian feature is the swarms of taxis and motor scooters patrolling its streets. But does that mean that North American companies should get into the taxi and motor scooter business? Not necessarily.

Seville's street maps look like a plate of spaghetti chopped into little pieces. The town structure evolved thousands of years ago when cars did not exist. So streets are laid out in a haphazard fashion. They are narrow, with no space to pass or park, are poorly labeled, and the same street often has several different names and can change directions without warning.

The upshot is that it is almost impossible to drive a s car in Seville and since few people do so, the taxi business has exploded. According to one driver, the city has one of the highest concentrations of taxis per capita in the world.

But while it's impossible to drive a car in Seville, thousands of motor scooters - often driven by youngsters -- patrol the streets. Their small size means they can zigzag in an out of traffic with ease, and they can be parked anywhere. And since there are few straight-aways in Seville, their slow speed is not a liability to Sevillians.

On the other hand, these scooters would be nearly as popular in Quebec. For one, they would not be fast enough to ride on our highways, they could not be used half the year due to snow and ice, and since our parking and roads are pretty good, who needs em?

The bottom line is that many products can be exported across borders, but companies had better so their research before they try. Because although a product may be sell well in one market, in another it may as popular as a cellphone in a bullring.


E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


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