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Stephen Grootes: Davos, a marketer's utopia

As I walk around Davos, with the various meetings in full session, it's clear this place is a marketer's paradise. There is advertising everywhere. Apart from projections on hotel walls, and banners on buses, and posters on lampposts, there is even advertising in the snow. It's for the Wall Street Journal, and you have to really look at the snow bank to see what is being said, but it's there.

South Africa does things differently. We just put our flag up against the wall of one of the main museums here. And boy is it effective. That's the joyous thing about our flag. You really cannot miss it. It stands out. And while the Constitution talks about the symbolism of the various colours and lines within it, you can't miss the fact that the real message the flag sends out is one of celebration of life, and of the diversity that makes life so interesting. It stands out like a beacon of fun amid the snow, inviting people to come and visit.

But there is serious competition. After presenting the Midday Report , I went for a wander. It sounds all very noble to go for a walk, but actually, I was looking for lunch. Eventually I came to a place that looked quite smart, but the menu seemed affordable (for Switzerland… the Swiss Franc is twelve to one at the moment). So in I went, fully expecting to be chucked out for not wearing a tie or something. But instead, I was shown to a table, and given a menu and generally made to feel like a guest. I ordered, and was seriously impressed with the food. It was something different, and of really good quality. I did notice though, that on the walls were pictures only of Pepsi. Odd, I thought. But I moved on. At the end of the meal, I asked for the bill. The waitress looked down at me, and in her best English with a hint of Swiss German said, "Dear, don't worry, PepsiCo decided to buy you lunch today".

In fact. the restaurant is really part of a marketing campaign. You go in expecting to pay, you eat as you normally would, and get a nice surprise at the end of it.

But I can't imagine you'll be able to get near the place tomorrow once the word has spread.

There's another aspect to this of course. It is, to paraphrase rock star Bono, that the rich get rich and the poor stay poor. In other words, you only get the free meal if you are in Davos. And if you're in Davos, you're already rich. And yet you get the free meal. Sometimes economics simply doesn't make sense.

However, in way, that's what the World Economic Forum is really trying to fix. It talks about a world that is somehow different, somehow re-imagined. It's hard to know how that's actually going to happen. But like most problems, talking about it is probably a good place to start.

Talking of talking, that's what people have spent the day doing. In their sessions, there have been discussions on global security featuring guests from China and Iran (common enemy: the US), Africa's next billion people and what that means for economies everywhere, and the future of Japan. Japan used to be the great rising economy, and now it's been a laggard for two decades. It's a frightening example of what can happen when you get your economics wrong.

I doubt they'll find easy solutions to all of these problems in just a few days. But at least they'll be able to have some food in their tummies while they try.

Stephen Grootes is the author of 'SA Politics Unspun', host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk and a senior political reporter at Eyewitness News.

Click here for a special feature on this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.