Spain Is Not Uganda | Bruce Turkel

During the negotiations on the terms of Spain’s bailout, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent a text to his finance minister. Encouraging the minister to be a tough negotiator, Rajoy wrote: “We’re the number four power in Europe. Spain is not Uganda.” Of course, Rajoy’s text was somehow broadcast to his entire email list and it created all sorts of conversations on the Internet and outrage in Uganda.
Ouch.

So how do the two countries really compare? In response to Rajoy’s unfortunate comment, the BBC released a chart with the following information:

  • The population of Spain is 46.5 million; Uganda’s is 33.8 million.
  • Spain covers 195,363 square miles; Uganda comprises 93,072 square miles.
  • According to the World Bank, Spain’s unemployment is 24% while Uganda’s is 4.2%.
  • Spain’s GDP growth of -0.1% is dwarfed by Uganda’s 5.2%.

Granted, these numbers are based on the respective countries own statistics but the differences are startling. Of course, all is not rosy in the African country.

  • Ugandan life expectancy is only 54 years, compared to Spain’s 79 years.
  • Spain’s adjusted gross national income is $31,800; Uganda’s is a paltry $1,250 (which might help explain the unemployment rates in both countries).

But the bigger question, of course, is how people react to the comparison in the first place. Needless to say, people with a Eurocentric viewpoint probably interpret something very different from “Spain is not Uganda” than a Ugandan or African would. And even though Rajoy’s implication was that Spain was the economically superior country, the facts don’t necessarily bear that out.

From a branding perspective, what matters here is not what is said but what is heard.

Years ago, Southeast Bank – long-time financial leader in South Florida – ran an ad campaign that ended with the tagline: “It’s Time To Call Southeast.”

Their point was that when you need financial services — for a mortgage, perhaps, or maybe to send your kid to college — you’d call the bank and be rewarded with the money you needed to meet your financial needs.

But what I inferred was something different. After all, I never call my bank to announce good news — “Hey, guess what bank, we just had a baby!!” — for example. Instead, I call my bank when something goes wrong – when I overdraw my checking account or my ceiling starts leaking and I need to replace my roof or when I forgot to make my car payment. To me, “It’s Time To Call Southeast,” was never a good thing, it only meant I had a problem I needed to solve. So each time I heard their ad it made me uncomfortable.

Do you know what “I’m nauseous” means? I thought it meant “I’m sick to my stomach and feel like throwing up” too, but it doesn’t. The true definition is “I make people sick,” similar to “I’m noxious.” When you feel bad, you’re actually nauseated not nauseous.

How about “factoid?” I thought a factoid was just a little bit of information. But according to Frank Luntz in Words That Work, it “is the exact opposite…a factoid is actually a piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual.”

Regardless of what Webster says these words mean, using them correctly does not mean you’re communicating accurately. Because just like “Spain is not Uganda,” what is said and what is heard is totally dependent on the interpretation of the listener. And in marketing communications, the results are often expensive mistakes. Which can make me nauseated.

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