Josh Cline

Israelis Don’t Understand Marketing

israeli newspaper print ad fail
Photo: Samuel Scott / The Cline Group

It would have been a wonderful commercial – if the marketing had not been so terrible.

The goal of the video – released on September 9, 2014, on YouTube – is to get more young adults in the United States to immigrate to Israel by presenting an exciting life in the country in contrast to a boring one in America:

Ha’aretz reporter Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote an article about the advertisement and then wrote the following on her Facebook profile:

So since this video was posted yesterday, numerous people across social media have pointed out some fatal flaws, namely –

1. Zero information on the YouTube page about who made it, no description, no website to go to.

2. Jokes made in Hebrew with no subtitles, so the target audience has no clue what they are saying.

And the BIG one 3. At the end, there’s a full-screen “CLICK HERE” and when you click … nothing happens! That, my friends, teaches all you need to know about how things (don’t) work in Israel.

Here are a few of the comments on the Facebook post (some of which are from people who also work in marketing in Israel):

How to explain that it’s a day later and still not fixed? They can’t not know, right? That makes it even worse than it was yesterday. Maddening.

And we can’t even send them friendly advice since there’s no freaking contact info anywhere!! Such a waste of a great ad.
The YouTube page is identified as the [Government Advertising Agency] – just in Hebrew, through! Of course, this should be in English and in the credits and of course the “Click Here” is a fashla of truly Israeli PR proportions. Sigh…

Why did the video have so many problems (though the “Click Here” failure has since been addressed)? Israelis don’t understand marketing. There are three main reasons why: Impatience, bluntness, and an over-reliance on logic.

Starting in elementary school, Israelis are taught about all of the attempts by neighboring countries to destroy Israel in wars and suicide bombings and, later, about the Holocaust as well. As a result, many develop a subconscious attitude that they could die tomorrow – and then live their lives constantly in a rush as a result.

In Israelis’ daily lives, this presents itself as constant honking and yelling at even the slightest delay on the street. In a business context, Israeli startups often will exit in one year for $1 million for the guaranteed cash rather than wait five years for a potential $1 billion. In a marketing context, it can take months – or even longer – for a desired outcome to occur. As a saying I heard once somewhere goes: “People do not buy Coca-Cola because of the ads that they saw yesterday; they buy it because of the ads they have seen their entire lives.”

But Israelis can barely think about next month, let alone five years from now. It’s the reason that they rush to put out everything – like, say, a video – without going through it many times to make sure that everything is perfect. (For another example of the results, see the picture from an Israeli newspaper advertisement that a colleague of mine, Samuel Scott, took at the top of this essay.)

The impatience leads to bluntness – defined as saying something as concisely and quickly as possible – because politeness and subtlety take time. Israelis will blurt out their opinions in order to lay everything on the table and then rapidly discuss the options before making a decision. But it truly takes time to convince people (who are not Israeli) to make a choice or lead them down a sales path successfully – to do so, it takes metaphorical massaging and flattery and various interpersonal skills.

However, too many Israelis sales techniques seem to boil down to this: “Our product is cheaper and better. You don’t you want it? What, are you stupid?” Israelis seem woefully ignorant of the sales techniques that have been developed over decades based on psychological studies on what emotionally drives people to buy.

The bluntness leads to an overuse of logic because Israel thinks that just “telling it like it is” is a good marketing strategy. (It is not.) The Israeli government often wonders why it gets such bad press during wartime. The issue is complicated, so I’ll just submit one reason of many: The Palestinian Arabs are much better at PR.

Israel’s blunt mentality leads the government to compile a list of facts and then just tell the world those facts. And that’s it.“Many Palestinians are dying in Gaza? It’s because Hamas intentionally stores missiles in and fires them from civilian buildings.” “Why did the IDF’s ground forces go into Gaza? To destroy tunnels that Hamas was going to use to attack civilian towns.”

Israel expects appeals to reason to get the world to side with the country, and the efforts fail. The Palestinians, however, know that appeals to emotion are what truly convince people. One photo or video of damage and dead civilians will trump any lengthy fact sheet that the Israeli government supplies.

Michael Eisenberg from venture capital firm Aleph once wrote similar thoughts on why Israeli companies do not do branding and messaging well:

Israelis prefer substance to form. Israelis naturally disdain artificial fluff and selling ahead of reality. Israel is a real and raw place where niceties and polish are the exception and not the rule. Ergo, Israelis attribute less value to messaging, branding and positioning at the early stages of a company, thinking that it is not real and not accurate and consequently not important. Anyone who looks at the incompetent managing of our national messaging and PR will know this is true.

Another reason that marketing is not valued “at the early stages of a company” is that other needs must come first. If a startup has invented new software, then the first priority is to have money for coders and R&D. Other departments will follow. Marketing will often come last – but that does not mean that it is less important for success.

The awareness of the need for marketing is growing among Israelis – but it has clearly not grown enough because there are still only 50 to 100 large exists and IPOs per year in Silicon Wadi.

Still, there is even more. It’s not only that Israelis need to understand marketing – they also need to understand how marketing has changed. (So, Israel is even further behind than the country may realize.) Here are just a few ways that marketing is different today:

Most importantly, Israeli startups that sell to the Western world need to understand that it is difficult to market to the United States (but not to Europe) from Israel. Will executives really travel 10,000 miles – and pay for the travel – back and forth every single time that there is a TV interview, conference, or some other PR opportunity? Will executives really want to be available at every hour of the night for a media call seven to ten hours away? Of course not.

So, out of all of the marketing lessons that Israelis need to learn, the most important is that they need a marketing presence in the United States – whether themselves or through an agency – if they want to succeed in the United States.

For more, I invite you to see a related essay at The Cline Group on why too many companies in the Startup Nation still fail.

About the Author
Josh Cline is an entrepreneur, angel investor, business adviser, and communications professional who is CEO of The Cline Group, CEO of Cline Ventures, and General Partner of INE Ventures.
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