Secret Marketer: Countries may be separated by culture, but we are united by the desire to be connected

My summer travels have taught me that shopping experiences and favourite brands remain hugely varied from country to country, but all nations are joined in their addiction to smartphones and Wi-Fi.

As we return from the summer break, it might surprise you to learn that it’s not two weeks sitting on a beach that relaxes me. Instead, I prefer heading to off-the-beaten track locations. No five-star transfers for me – a lot more heaving crowds, sweaty buses and bumpy roads. It’s not that different from a typical commute to London, really.

This year, I made the decision not to bring my work phone and to have zero access to work email. I used the pretext of the obscure places that I was visiting to tell the boss that it would be a waste of time, with data roaming costs and what have you.

Luckily, the boss didn’t ask me about my holidays when I got back. If asked, I would have had to admit that even in some of the world’s most remote locations the Wi-Fi can be blazingly fast. In my gap year a long time ago, Wi-Fi was something from a sci-fi film. Sitting through the bleeps of dial-up in an internet café was the only way to find out more about the outside world. Today, Wi-Fi and internet access are more widespread than Coca-Cola.

Speaking of Coca-Cola, as a marketer I am, of course, a brand nerd and one of my favourite things to do on holiday is visit supermarkets to see what’s on the shelves. It maybe sad but we all have to get our kicks somehow. I had a theory that most countries are starting to sell the same stuff, offer the same brands and deliver the same commoditised experience, so that you could be in almost any country. But my theory turns out to have no weight whatsoever. I can safely say that Europe’s supermarkets are not about to turn into one bland, homogenised experience.

However, one thing that is ubiquitous is people being glued to the glowing screens of their smartphones. Restaurants, bars, beaches, buses – no matter where you are – the sheer uniformity of that experience is startling. We may not recognise any brands in the supermarkets or understand the ads, but we do now have a common, shared experience: addiction to the small screen in our hands, accompanied by a thought bubble in our head that says ‘I wonder if they have Wi-Fi here’. It is this behaviour that is the defining trait that binds us all – on holidays or at home.

I’m okay with that. Forget ‘vive, la difference’ and my desire for off-the-beaten track places. I am all for making it easier to connect people with each other, and to have an environment that gives equal access to limitless amounts of information through a Google search right in our hands. Frankly, I will take the downside of having Pokémon Go crazes, selfie mania and bad ringtones if it means that knowledge is democratised and available to everybody at their fingertips.

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