Saturday, September 16, 2017

Challenges of marketing

The history of this part of the world can make for unintentional irony in marketing pitches.

This morning I was watching an interview on the subject of who should be in the Pantheon of the National Museum when it is finally reopened (hopefully sometime next year) after a long-overdue reconstruction.

Should it include Julius Fučík,, a journalist, member of the anti-Nazi resistance, and member of the Communist Party? He was placed in the Pantheon after the war (I’m not sure whether his placement was before or after the Communists took full power in 1948), then removed in 1991.

Should it include Emperor Franz Joseph (ruled 1848-1916) and his wife? They’d been placed there sometime during the Habsburg era, then removed in 1918 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart and Czechoslovakia was created.

The interview veered onto the topic of how to handle the remains of the communist era that are sprinkled around everyday things, from decorations on building facades to names of streets.

The interviewer compared the Czech situation to Russia where, in his words, they’ve removed the greatest excesses of “socialist realism” but left a lot of things as they were. “Their attitude is, we lived through that history, we shouldn’t negate it.” But it leads to some absurd situations.
I was on the subway in Petersburg and I saw an ad for a bank: “Come take advantage of our amazing interest rate—20% on your deposits. Learn more at our branches. Investors and capitalists, come talk to us at our branch at 21 Dictatorship of the Proletariat Square.” (Rough transcription/paraphrase of part of the interview)
It reminded me of an ad I saw on the subway here in Prague in 2013. A bank was promoting its retirement account, and the text was clearly aiming at young people with perhaps a 40-year horizon until they’d be drawing on their retirement savings. The tenor of the ad was the same as retirement ads anywhere: Plan now (and save with us) so you can retire in comfort.

One could be forgiven, however, for casting a skeptical eye on exhortations to plan 40 years ahead in the Czech lands, given their 20th-century history:
  • 1918: Habsburg empire collapses, Czechoslovakia created
  • September 1938: Lands along the German border handed over to Germany as a result of the Munich agreement, 1st Czechoslovak Republic collapses, succeeded by 2nd Czechoslovak Republic.
  • March 1939: Germany takes over the rest of the Czech lands and creates the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, while Slovakia is spun off as a nominally independent puppet state.
  • 1945: Nazi Germany defeated, Czechoslovak Republic re-established; 3 million ethnic German citizens expelled from the country; more-or-less democratic elections leading to coalition government with Communist Party the largest party but only having a plurality of seats, not a majority
  • February 1948: “Victorious February” (as the Communists called it) when the Communist Party took over full control of the government
  • 1968: Prague Spring, a reform movement within the Communist Party that was moving in the direction of a free press and contested elections when it was cut off by an invasion of Soviet and other Warsaw-Pact forces
  • 1989: Velvet Revolution, when the Communists stepped down and there was a return to markets and competitive elections
  • 1993: Velvet Divorce, when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia

In the last 100 years, the longest that any system of government has lasted in this place is 41 years—in other words, roughly the length of an average working life. And that record is held by the communist period.

Granted, the current regime comes in second in the duration sweepstakes, at 24 years and counting. And in many ways the Czech Republic is just a continuation of post-communist Czechoslovakia, so you could call it 28 years. That means that, from the perspective of anyone under 30, the post-communist state feels like it has been around “forever.”

But if you were using 20th-century data to predict the probability that the current system will be around when you retire, the answer would be approximately zero.

If you’re marketing a retirement savings account to young people, it’s better for you if your target audience doesn’t think about that sort of thing too much.

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