We are More Similar Than we are Different

During his missions on the International Space Station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield took an extraordinary series of photographs of our beautiful planet, and had this to say in an interview about those photos:

“Flying over Winnipeg, or flying over a city in Africa, or one in China, you see how much the same we are. We gather tightly around rivers and bodies of water, we build our towns over here, and there’s farmland over there, and the arrangement is almost exactly the same. From space you truly realize we are one species, we are so very similar everywhere.”

Those of you who are familiar with our work as an agency and with that of our strategy group L’Institut Idée, know that we have a fondness for talking about, and using, archetypes and ‘universal ideas’ in our work. Because in our observations of brands and human behaviour across categories and geographies, we see very clearly a set of patterns that transcend surface differences in human beings.

A friend of mine who runs a pediatric clinic in Seattle, and who counts more than 75 separate nationalities in her patient populations, likes to say: “When you’re doing surgery, you realize that we’re so much the same under the hood. We have the same bones and the same organs in the same places. I’m pretty much a glorified garage mechanic! And then afterward, when you have to speak with the family, you realize it again. We want the same things no matter our colour or race.”

But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Our similarities as members of Homo Sapiens are deep, powerful and consistent. Otherwise, one could never really export a brand. You couldn’t possibly have a successful McDonald’s in Europe or Asia, or bring a French couture house to America or China. You’d need to develop entirely different auto brands for different genders (vs. product features or campaign messaging, which can be adjusted readily by audience need or preference).

We make much of our differences. And we forget our similarities. Until of course we attend a concert in a stadium of a popular entertainer. And we realize, as we blend into the roar of the crowd as the artist sings their anthem, that we’re moved by the same deeper emotions, that our undercurrents are so much the same, no matter how different we seem on the surface.