The Art of being Belgian

While I’m reading this book “The Art of being Belgian” there was an interesting piece that made me think of online advertising in Belgium versus the rest of Europe. Let me explain.

“The Art of being Belgian” is written by Richard Hill, an Englishman living in Belgium for more than 40 years, about his experiences of the country. In the second chapter he talks about Bunkers and bricks – “Belgium is a country invented by the Brittish to annoy the French”. It’s about a certain scepticism we have, developed through the ages.

When you have had almost every European nation marching through your living room (which someone with a deviant English sense of humour called the Lebensraum), it’s not surprising that you develop a defensive tick. That’s exactly what many Belgians have: a healthy scepticism plus a tendency to batten down the hatches at the slightest sign of trouble, what I call a ‘bunker complex’. History has taught them to react to developments rather than to initiate them. Hardly surprising in the circomstances!

What does this have to do with online? Well it made me think of the fact that we in Belgium are still way behind our European neighbours when it comes to ad spend online. We hardly have 2% of total media spend in invested in online, where the online spend in the UK for instance is already at about 6% if I’m not mistaken. Richard continues:

This bunker complex translates in daily life into an apparent suspicion of other people’s motives, particularly foreigners’ behaviour that is in stark contrast with the other overriding feature of he Belgian character, an innate humanity. It extends into business: the Swedish manager of a well-known photocopier company told me that, while he could sell his machines to the Dutch on the strength of a catalogue reference, the Belgians expected a week’s use of a demonstration model to make up their minds. This suspicion is evident in the problem of selling PCs on-line to the Belgians: Apple, Dell and HP have all had disappointing results.

So if you ask me, this might very well be the real reason why we are so much behind in online advertising spend versus our neighbours. My only question would be, how many free photocopiers must we send out before the market is convinced of the quality of the product?

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