When I arrived last night in Myrtle Beach, I didn't really know very much about this place, aside from my destination hotel where I'm staying. A mere half hour later I knew many things, including the fact that they have the World's Biggest Laser Light Show here and that selling beach homes and condo properties is a big deal here. I didn't get these facts from asking someone or reading a book – I learned them by reading the advertising along the way.
In just about any destination around the world, the advertising you can find there is much more than just sales messages plastered on billboards. It offers a cultural compass of the place you have just entered. it helps you navigate the area by sharing examples of places to go, brands that are popular and experiences that people there typically consume. While in Athens, I noticed many of the TV ads there were for all sorts of hair removal products (for men and women). In LA the ads are often for TV programs and movies.
This impact of advertising is not just about places and billaboards. One of my favourite techniques to get to understand a new world that I know nothing about is to pick up a magazine targeted to people with that passion or in that place. For example, I may not know anything about fishing – but after I pick up a copy of Salt Water Sportsman Magazine, I can learn the popular brands of fishing rods, the dream destinations that salt water fisherman want to go to, and some proper fishing techniques.
This is also why I love Time Out Travel Guides – because they present advertising alongside the travel advice in the book. Many people complain about the ubiquitous advertising they see around them and about being "targeted" and treated like, well, consumers. Maybe it's just me and my biases as a marketer, but there is a side of advertising that is chronicling our culture and that of others around us as it is, whether we like it or not. When I'm in a new place or learning something new, I'm actually myself grateful for it.