Erik Nicolaisen arrived on the Rock last Monday as a guest of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) to help promote Brand Jamaica.
Nicolaisen is, of course, the star, Dave ("Respec, boss man", of the VW Super Bowl advertisement. The JTB got him here within three weeks of the airing of the advert, which is not the usual speed at which Jamaican public agencies work.
When the dust of controversy blows away, the heart of the ad is a creative, funny and entertainingly whacky combination of the power, speed and precision of German engineering with the laid-back happy-go-lucky cultural ethos of Jamaica, which is not about to sweat being three minutes late - or 30 minutes for that matter. Thin-skinned black people and their white 'friends' are constantly in defence mode against racist attacks.
Germany not only manufactures the Volkswagen of the advertisement but is now the largest national economy in Europe and a major stabiliser of the European Union and the global economy.
Jamaica - "no problem, mon" - on the other hand, is drowning in debt, on which it has just launched a second technical default in three years; has chronically low productivity; and is unable to convert its famed international brand standing into serious exports on the world market.
Nicolaisen, with his delightfully stilted Jamaican accent and demeanour, which have catapulted him to fame via the creative genius of the Volkswagen advertising agency, has been brought in to use his acting talent to help market Brand Jamaica, for which the world has long been ready.
"Thanks to the Tourist Board for bringing me here. We are going to do some video shoots to promote Brand Jamaica. I am an actor, that's what I do for a living ... so if I can come down and act to help Jamaica, what a joy! That's why I am here," an exuberant Nicolaisen said when he touched down at Sangster International in Montego Bay last Monday, before heading for Scotchie's jerk centre.
Incidentally, VW, a private manufacturing company, paid on its own the hefty fee attached to advertising in one of the most powerful advertising spaces in the world, the American Super Bowl. Last year, 3.3 million visitors arrived in Jamaica, either as stopovers or on cruises, breaking all previous records. I remember distinctly when we welcomed for the first time the one-millionth visitor for a year.
WHY TOURISM SPEND?
I have a serious problem with the Government spending tax dollars - and in hard currency, at that - to market what is essentially a private business product, which is then given all kinds of other concessions. And why one sector, or some sectors, and not all others? Why, on the same premise, shouldn't the Government of Jamaica internationally market some of Brand Jamaica's most innovative products? Jerk, patty, reggae, Red Stripe, Ting?
In any case, Shaun Bailey, whose parents are migrant Jamaicans and who is a special adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, while in the island last week also, sharply criticised the JTB's marketing efforts. Bailey's advice carried by one of the morning dailies was: "The Jamaica Tourist Board should be running a PR entity instead of an advertising entity. They should be trying to meet the Queen; they should be finding out who is big in British business ... . They are the people who attract investments your way. If the JTB hasn't invited the head of HSBC bank to Jamaica, why not?"
Bailey, advocating trade, not aid, said, "Grant-giving is nice, and it makes you feel nice after you receive a couple pennies, but trade makes us equal, and you don't want to be my children, you want to be my boss," underscoring the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government's emphasis on trade, instead of aid, and the need for Jamaica to focus on what it has to offer.
"What are we trading between us? Jamaica needs to find what Jamaica has to sell and people will be quite happy to buy it if it's good."
We have invested a lot of time and public money trying to hang on to preferential market access into the UK/EU for sugar and bananas, whose day has passed, and, in any case, are at the base of the value chain.
"British people," Shaun Bailey reminded us, "love a holiday. They believe a holiday is necessary, and all you got to do is make them holiday here. Why should they come here instead of Spain? Spain is closer, Spain is cheaper. Jamaica needs to be more special and needs to figure out how and why it's going to be special."
And why aren't we more aggressively going after the rich Germans who are more than open to exotic travel experience? They are going after the American market for their little VW cars! And using a mimicked Jamaican sitcom, to boot!
While Erik Nicolaisen, in his jeans outfit, was doing Montego Bay, whose shiny convention centre is yet to attract serious business and make a dollar of profit, the pinstripe-suited IMF men were in Kingston helping to fix the macroeconomy. But who is going to fix those behavioural and attitudinal problems, which are at least as important as hindrances to progress, if not more, than the macroeconomic problems? We are not heartened by the stories and experiences of our work-work- work prime minister's chronic lateness for engagements.
We have spent some time with the chug-along attitude towards time, entertainingly captured in the VW Super Bowl advertisement. Waste of time, loss of time, and poor use of time has to be a seriously major drag on productive effort in this country. "But no worries, mon. Everyt'ing will be a'right," as actor-Jamaican Dave magically pronounces in the VW ad.
And what about our mating and breeding habits? Chairman of the National Family Planning Board, Dr Sandra Knight, like Erik Nicolaisen, seems not to be from here. Not only is she deeply disturbed by the fact that a recent study has shown that sex is increasingly being used by Jamaican youth as a bartering tool rather than as a component of a healthy relationship, she wants for us "to get back to the stage where we are thinking about a mate with which to have a family.
"I would love for sex to become a part of a context where it's not a man-meet-woman-and-go-to-bed situation," she is pleading. The situation, she says, does not augur well for the preservation of stable family structures in the country. When was that the case, please?
The 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey, to which Dr Knight was emotionally responding, is showing 53 per cent males and 23 per cent females surveyed reporting having sex for money or gifts. And three in every four Jamaican teenagers agreed with at least one statement that encouraged transactional sex.
LOWERING OF STANDARDS
Dr Knight was particularly concerned that more and more Jamaican young women are lowering their standards to sleep with multiple males in exchange for material possessions. Yes?
Transactional sex in transitory relationships starting from early in life has been the dismal story of our lives. That's how most of us were born and continue to produce children. The police story that murdered Manchester teenager and Cross Keys High School student Martha Byrowe had been living with an older man in a house next door to her mother may or may not be true, but is certainly not any big exceptionality. The murder just brings the story to bump.
Just after Valentine's Day, Family Life Ministries got busy fêting 50 inner-city couples and encouraging them to get married. The reason: "Marriage makes a lot of sense, because in a society such as ours that is falling apart, we are recognising that the reason why it is falling apart is because our families are so dysfunctional," said Dr Barry Davidson, Family Life head.
Family Life Ministries joins a long line of do-good organisations which, since Emancipation, have been trying to get Jamaicans to commit to marriage. According to the 2011 census, only 24 per cent of the adult population is married, with the vast majority of the others having never married at all.
Major Neil Lewis, an organiser of the Family Life Ministries event, puts it starkly: "We can't continue the way we are with more than 86 per cent of our children being born out of wedlock, with half of those not knowing their fathers' name and having it on their birth certificate. It is crippling to our society, and if we can change that statistic and have men, in particular, think of family as a dynasty, thinking long term other than short term, I think we can change this nation fundamentally."
When we add to our lackadaisical attitude towards time and work and our dismal family life the high levels of endemic violence, indiscipline, and distrust, and low levels of public order and of commitment to anything but individual here-and-now 'benefits', we have a behavioural and attitudinal mix from which, economically, we are not going to be VW's Germany or Erik Nicolaisen's United States, any time soon. It's a lot more than money. "But no worries, mon. Everyt'ing will be a'right."
Martin Henry is a communications specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.