When I studied abroad in Denmark two years ago, I began to notice an interesting little shift in language, especially as it was used in print ads. Two of my favorite things in Denmark – beer and cake -had something in common: they were each touted as “probably the best” of their kind. There was a huge Carlsberg billboard located in the middle of Copenhagen that was dark green and said simply, “Probably the best beer in the world.” My favorite up-scale Danish bakery, La Glace, notes on its rather formal website that it is the “oldest and probably best confectionary in Denmark”.
Probably the best? Huh?
I found the International Advertising class that I took in Denmark fascinating, because it was as much about anthropology, humor, and culture as it was about business proposals and international brand mergers. I thought I might be an Anthropology major in college. I loved learning about communication, values, and difference.
In IA we learned about Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher renowned in his studies of cultural organization, management, and economics. In the 60’s and ’70’s he conducted a global survey that resulted in his famous cultural dimensions theory. There are five dimensions that make up the theory, and they are: power distance, masculine/feminine, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, and long term orientation. Each country is ranked according to the five dimensions, and the resulting data has become very important for cross-cultural communication and business. It’s also very interesting when used to study ads. Granted, these models are cultural generalizations, so take them as such.
An example of how a country might do on some rankings is as follows:
Nordic countries score low for masculinity: A culture that scores low on masculinity places more emphasis on relationships & quality of life and less on competition. Gender roles are more fluid.
Nordic countries score low on power distance: A culture that scores low feels more “equal” with those in power and does not shy away from engaging or critiquing those in power
Nordic countries score low on power distance: They are okay with ambiguous situations, more open to change, do not depend on excessive rules and laws for stability
Danish interaction as a whole is known for being very humble and low-key. Definitely not overly competitive. I remember my Danish professor telling me that there is a joke that most famous Danes have had to leave Denmark to become famous elsewhere before they can become popular at home, because the culture de-emphasizes the singling out of individual successes.
Therefore, the Carlsberg & bakery language made sense. To this American it was funny, quirky, and sounded a bit valley girl “Oh yeah, that’s like probably the best thing I’ve ever had,” but I realized that it was a humorous yet culturally appropriate take on asserting one’s product is good while not claiming best.