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Case study: “Plunger” vs. “French Press”
How do cage eggs, scones topped with clotted cream, toast spread with concentrated yeast extract, Digestives biscuits, and coffee pressed by a plunger sound for breakfast? To an American, these items sound more like a lineup of FDA rejects. Many Australians, however, gladly consume these products at brekkie. They may even flashback to childhood while eating some of these comfort foods.
USA: Glam it up.
Americans, instead, go for “farm fresh eggs,” “scones with “Devonshire cream,” “fiber wafers,” and coffee made in a “French press.” Forget the concentrated yeast extract (Vegemite) altogether. Accused of being superficial, we want products to have pleasing connotations.
Remember, we’re talking about a country where the government has referred to torture as “enhanced interrogation,” and sports organizations admit that athletes use “performance enhancing drugs” rather than steroids. We definitely like things enhanced — or at least glammed up a little. I once worked for a temporary agency that offered me a “paper manipulation” gig. You mean filing?
Australia: Tell it like it is.
While living in Australia for a year as an exchange teacher, I noticed Australians, on the other hand, are direct and straightforward. They don’t sugarcoat anything. After all, this is a nation that labelled Vegemite, its favorite spread, as “concentrated yeast extract,” created boots called “Uggs,” named a popular discount retail outlet “The Reject Shop,” and promoted train safety with the hugely successful public service campaign “Dumb Ways to Die.”
You are what you market.
Essentially, the product names and the marketing messages of a specific country tell us quite a bit about that nation’s personality. They often reflect the tastes, attitudes, and values of a nation’s citizens.
For example, since Australians are typically direct and have adopted an attitude of “no worries,” those character traits influence their marketing strategies. “Australians tell it like it is, and we don’t stand for bullshit,” says my Aussie friend Amy Frazier, a photographer and language arts teacher. “We don’t beat around the bush.”
Australia: Time to use the “toilet.”
Straightforward communication is just part of life in Australia where, daily, I heard newscasters announcing which streets were hosting active speed cameras. “Take it easy driving on Cheltenham Parade today. The cameras are on.” Public service announcements warning about flu season show snot and mucus spraying full on from convulsing noses and contorted mouths. Additionally, in public places, people ask to use the “toilet” rather than the “bathroom” or “restroom.”
USA: “Toilet” = TMI.
While Americans appreciate the truth, we also cringe at too much information. When I taught high school in Adelaide, I was somewhat stunned the first time a student said: “Excuse me, Miss, I need to use the toilet.” Whoa, I don’t really need specific details. For Americans, “toilet” already is implied in “bathroom.” On the contrary, according to Scott Hill, another one of my Australian teacher friends, “When some of my kids say, ‘Can I go to the bathroom,’ I say, ‘What? Are you going to have a shower?”
Truth in advertising?
As far as “cage eggs” go, most American consumers don’t want to be reminded that the chickens laying the eggs scrambled up before them are crammed into tiny wire pens. Furthermore, a plunger coffee maker would never sell in the US, because a “plunger” is too closely associated with brown stuff that isn’t actually coffee. And, while plunging occurs with this type of coffee maker, pressing the grounds in a “French” way sounds so much better.
Australians regard “plunger” as a practical label. The coffee maker plunges the grounds, so you call it a “coffee plunger.” It’s reality. Likewise, when Australian consumers shop at “The Reject Shop,” they know what they’re in for. It’s a dollar store, and occasionally, defective products are part of the cheaply made mix. However, you can’t complain if a product falls apart after buying it from The Reject Shop since you were warned about the quality up front in huge neon letters.
Digestives biscuits, an import from the UK, are widely popular in Australia, and Aussies who want regularity find them in the cracker/biscuit aisle of a grocery store. In the United States, any product aiding in digestion is shelved strictly in the antacid/laxative aisle. You only go there if necessary, and when you arrive, the crackers will be called “fiber wafers,” because “fiber” is code for “colon cleanser.”
But perhaps the US and Australia are beginning to meet more in the middle with marketing messages. On a recent trip back to Oz, I noticed grocery stores still stock “cage eggs,” but now they come from chickens “fed fresh grains.” Then back in the US, we have made progress with “pimple” products. For years, American marketers have largely avoided using the term “pimples.” And despite a 1982 Oxy 10 television commercial that maintained, “Last night, while you slept, the ZITS came out like stars,” advertisers primarily have relied on “acne,” “breakouts,” “blemishes,” or “spots” to describe the dreaded pimples. At Walmart, however, I recently saw the package of a popular acne product claiming it “visibly reduces pimple size.”
Ultimately, while “plunger coffee” may never catch on in the US, perhaps someday Americans will say we need to use the “toilet,” and Aussies will replace the phrase “concentrated yeast extract” on a Vegemite label with “Australia’s Favourite Spread.”