The more time I spend in South America the greater my confusion.
For example, why was I woken to the sound of a car horn honking through the village at 6am this morning by a man selling jewellery? I know he was selling jewellery because he was announcing it through a megaphone.
And if it isn't jewellery it's mattresses, or shoes, or lengths of steel girder. The only purchase I've ever made at that time in the morning is a coffee and a croissant. Seriously, where's the market?
Which brings me onto another area of bewilderment. Coming from London, the marketing capital of the entire world, it's very strange the way businesses in South America choose to promote themselves - or not.
The most popular method of marketing is the "Gigantografia" - the giant plastic sign. Of course, why choose a simple, sleek effective design when you can go bat-shit mental with Comic Sans and every colour under the rainbow? It costs the same doesn't it? Might as well get your money's worth.
The most common addition to the Gigantografia is a greasy, blonde bird in a bikini. South American culture is toe-curlingly sexist, even in liberal, PC society. For example, a popular bumper sticker adorning the monster trucks bound from Guayaquil is "100% Machista" - that's 100% Sexist. Imagine one that said 100% Racist! In fact, I think that would be quite popular here too.
I get what they think they're doing by sticking a bikini babe on the sign for their shop. They're catching the rapey eyes of those 100% machistas. I can even imagine the thought process - "Sexy bird... tyre shop... need tyres... buy tyres." Which, depressingly, sort of works for the machista monster truck crowd, but on a cake shop? Or a florist?
In the capital Quito it's a different story. There are marketing agencies who attempt to replicate the very best of the London-ad market. Only without any clue what they're actually doing.
A case in point. Billboards started popping up around the city featuring a half-naked woman riding various jungle animals. In marketing terms, they were trying to fuse the Pirelli calendar with early Guinness surrealism. There's one where she's straddling a rhinoceros that I can imagine has already become firmly ingrained in the imaginations of Quito's 13-year-old male population. The crocodile one is the weirdest of all. Only because I was writing this did I bother to read the tiny small-print in the bottom right hand corner to discover what was being advertised. Of course, floor tiles. What else?
The next most common method of marketing is no sign at all.
For example, the very best corviche shop in the tiny village of Las Cabanas has chosen to advertise its presence by writing on a wooden board in charcoal. Considering the regular monsoon-strength rains that hit the coast, I rather think their preferred medium ought to have been oils. The horrible corviche restaurant in Las Cabanas has an enormous Gigantografia outside its front - it even has a name, unlike my place which is just called: "the Corviche place in Las Cabanas... no, not the one with the sign... the one deeper into the village... you know, near the cockfighting pit... that's right, where the drunks piss against the shed... yeah, that one with the vicious, one-eyed dog... sure, they're chaining him up now after the last incident... anyway... that one."
The result is, I rave about how great the corviche is in Las Cabanas and what amazing value they are - one dollar a pop. People think: "Tom's a switched-on guy with his ear to the pulse and his finger on the ground. I'll check it out." They go to Las Cabanas and head straight to the first restaurant with a sign that says corviche. Nobody wins, not I, not the customer, not the vicious, one-eyed dog. Well, actually, the restaurant with a sign wins.
Fucking hell Ecuador, it's not rocket science. You don't need to be Saatchi and Saatchi to know the very least you can do to advertise your business is to signify its very existence.
But as Lucy and I were once told by a shopkeeper swilling a cold beer: "I've already paid for my house. I don't want to work too hard... It's hot today, isn't it?"