Tomorrow will be our fifth day in the Czech Republic. So far we’ve been trying our best to leave behind our “visitor” identities and experience Prague as the Czechs do. In order to help us accomplish this, we’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with some new friends: Tomas, Suzanne and Tomas. All three are students from the University of Economics here in Prague. On Friday evening, Susanne and Tomas took us all to a traditional Czech pub near the University of Economics campus where current students commonly hang out. It was interesting to see how the students at the pub gathered primarily to have meaningful conversations with each other, which is something that is not as common among American college students. Luckily, Susanne and Thomas were able to explain the Czech students’ behavior that we were witnessing firsthand.
On Saturday we embraced the local culture by experiencing a day of Czech activities outside of “the big city” of Prague. With Thomas and Thomas (two of the University of Economics students) as our guides, we set out to have a Czech castle adventure. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how beautiful the experience would be! We started out by taking a train about 45 minutes outside of Prague. Once we stepped off the train, we started our uphill climb to Karlstejn, stopping at small shops and stands along the way. After taking a tour of the amazing Karlstejn castle, an original castle of Charles IV, we headed back down to the little town to have a traditional Czech meal of pork and dumplings. Thomas and Thomas taught us some important Czech phrases over lunch: “prosím” (please), “děkuji” (thank you), “miluju te” (I love you), and “jedno pivo prosím” (one beer please). It was a great meal and an even better conversation.
After our castle adventure concluded and we arrived back in Prague, Thomas and Thomas took some of the students to the Czech Beer Festival. It was convenient timing for the students who are studying the beer sector. Check out their sector blog to learn more about their experiences at the Festival and their thoughts on the role of beer in Czech culture: Branding Beer Across Cultures.
A beautiful train ride through the Czech countryside, a tour of a real life castle, traditional Czech cuisine, a Czech language lesson, and the Czech Beer Festival: not a bad way to spend a Saturday! Děkuji Tomas and Tomas, for the helpful insights into Czech culture and for a wonderful day that was enjoyed by all.
Czech advertising has been on fast-forward since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In the ensuing 20 years Czech advertising proved to mirror the rush to embrace western ideals while holding fast to Czech heritage. With skepticism abound that was no easy task.
To learn just how challenging a task it was we spent Friday morning with two giants from those early years: Ladislav Kopecky and Jiri Mikes. Both were at the forefront of bringing western style branding into the Czech marketplace. In those early years Kopecky created a documentary tracking the evolution of the Czech Republic to a free market. From 1994-98, he served at Director of Lintas, Prague. Mikes founded the Prague office of McCann-Erickson in 1989 and later work as a global consultant to the Czech government. Together, while working at McCann, they won an Effie for their work on Hami.
They shared their passion for advertising through historical case studies that illustrated the importance of cultural branding — branding that respects the subtle (and not so subtle) nuances of culture. Kopecky enlightened us with the back-story of a highly skeptical Czech consumer thrust into a free market economy. Mikes inspired us with a presentation on sustainability and the absolutely essential role that corporate social responsibility must play in the future.
Today they share their wisdom with a new generation of Czech advertising and marketing students — and a few very lucky students who visit from aboard. Kopecky is affiliated with with Charles University, while Mikes is with the University of Economics.
Our wonderful hosts Vice-Dean Vaclav Kaspar and Premysl Prusa from the University of Economics made us feel most welcome. Prusa presented his research on wine retailing in the Czech Republic, as we sampled the topic at hand. And after a meeting with Vice–Dean Kaspar it’s clear that richer opportunities lie ahead for our two institutions.
And so, to my Czech colleagues in this lovely Prague spring I say, “děkuji”
Walking through Manchester Amanda and I came across Magma Design, a bookstore I wanted to take home with me. Unable to do so, I settled for purchasing two books. One I gave away as a gift. The other was much too coveted to part with. I tore through it on the plane. (Actually I’m writing this on the plane.) That book changed this class and EVERY class I will ever each in the future.
How to be an Explorer of the World is an ethnographer’s dream come true.
So how does one dream? Freely and with our senses unhinged. In our dreams we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch without reservation. In her book, How to be an Explorer of the World, Keri Smith (who, by the way, is an artist) implores use to be uninhibited and free while awake. Harnessing an uninhibited sense of wonder and using her book as a guide, one is bound to experience the world in ways that cultivate inspiration and insight as never before.
Like the exercises at the back of my book, Teaching Advertising Creative, make copywriting come to life, the exercises in Smith’s book make ethnography come to life. (Even if she is an artist. Or maybe because she is an artist.) Her “One Thing” exercise is a twist on my cultural collage. “Fifty Things” encourages explores to document 50 things on what might otherwise be a mundane trip to the grocery store or library. Or how about her “Sound Map,” which challenges you to sit in one place for an hour and map out every sound, marking the approximate location relative to yourself? Follow that up with “Found Smells” by going for a walk and sniffing every smell and identifying its source. Then there’s “Your Favorite Street.” Imagine sending people into the field to describe every detail of their favorite street. And for my copywriters, there’s “Found Words.” Be a voyeur and sit in close proximity to your target audience and eavesdrop. Collect every gem they utter. My personal favorite, and the perfect way to bond a new group of ethnographers, is “Self Ethnography.” Use yourself as the subject and document all your movements, activities, behaviors, and conversations through the course of one day, then report back. And at the end of the book there’s a spot for field notes. It’s the best hands-on, inspiration driven idea book I’ve laid my hands on.
And so dear students I will be enlivening our cultural explorations and tweaking the blogs posting assignments. How could I not?
Look out Prague. Here we come!