My Nonna often recounts tales of walking from her tiny Southern Italian village to the neighbouring town in pursuit of basic grocery and household items. There was no pharmacist, no shopping centre and certainly no supermarket to quickly pop into and grab a ready-to-bake meal. Clothes were sewn with love and patience, and when they no longer fit there was always someone who was just the right size for them. Sore tummies, head colds and scratches were all remedied with natural ingredients that were found in the garden or the cupboard; there wasn’t a single tube or blister pack in sight.
Today she and my Nonno lead a very different life in their suburban Sydney home, complete with air conditioning and a Coles supermarket just down the road. In spite of the creature comforts afforded by modern life, there are some things she continues to do the way she always has, teaching us about how quickly life has evolved in such a short time and how instantaneous and commercial it has become.
There are no Donna Hay cookbooks in her cupboards, no Jamie Oliver programs playing on her television screen. All Nonna’s recipes are stored safely in her memory, safe from the perils of shattered screens and full storage. There are no cups or teaspoons in her repertoire; instead ingredients are measured in handfuls and pinches. She is always willing to put new spins on old favourites in the name of research and development, and even these variations are replicated with precision from the depths of her cerebral recollection.
There is no such thing as an automatic machine that dispenses money to Nonna. There is a bank, a blue book and a nice teller who helps you with anything finance-related. And there is absolutely no need for a credit card. If you don’t have the cash, you don’t need it. This completely eliminates online shopping and any other online activity, which would be a real shame if they were connected to the Internet.
Booking tickets to travel interstate or back to the Motherland to visit family used to be a marathon event. They would save up for a year, call the travel agent, make an appointment and drive there and back, exhausting themselves before even setting foot on a plane. Now we simply jump online and book tickets, accommodation and tours in half that time, having compared the best rates and formed a Pinterest board of places to visit well in advance. We can snap up tickets for a bargain price, making international journeys far more accessible and broadening our cultural experiences.
The melodic ring of the landline is always guaranteed to chime again and again during any visit to Nonna’s house. Without going to visit each other in person, it is the only real way for her to communicate with her wide network of friends and family. There are no text conversations back and forth, instant messenger chats, tags on Facebook or calls via Bluetooth in the car. There is the old-fashioned Telstra phone hanging on the wall, and another in the bedroom for her to settle in for a long chat, away from all the noise in the kitchen.
Making a life for themselves in a new country would have been challenging for my grandparents, and indeed for all migrants. To soften the blow they surrounded themselves with family and friends from the old country, all living nearby and visiting each other with great frequency. They shared a familiar language, a common worldview and similar life experiences. They also shared recommendations on the best butcher, greengrocer or electrician, utilising word-of-mouth advertising in all its glory. Now we simply Google it or advertise any jobs we may have for tradies to pitch for.
Our lives may look very different on the surface. My house has chargers at every power point, a modem that constantly flashes and I have never actually had a ‘home phone’, yet on a fundamental level Nonna and I aren’t all that dissimilar. We both love cooking, we are always in touch with our family and friends and we both have travel stories that we share with one another.
Marketing is very much the same. There are always exciting new techniques and channels that seemingly change the face of how we communicate with the public, yet at its core the strategies and basic principles are very much the same. As marketers we constantly have new and exciting tools at our fingertips, just like Gen Y is always bringing home a new gadget to do that old job. It is human nature to search for something better, something that will make life easier and something that everyone else has. Yet at the core of who we are as people and as marketers, our vision is and always has been the same – we just have new ways of expressing it.