A look at any newspaper, magazine or television programming gives the impression that the world has become a village with a population of like individuals. Differences have disappeared and the ones that still exist, won’t for much longer. The world as village?
The impression of assimilation only increases when we consider Chinese youths who dress in western fashions, eat western foods and listen to western music. Here in the western world, we eat pot stickers, consult feng shui experts and attend the Beijing Opera.
Yet who would contend about themselves that they had oriented their values, their thoughts, their feelings and their behavior on an Asian culture? A deeper study shows rather quickly how locally rooted culture around the world is. Why are there national editions of the Financial Times, National Geographic and CNN? Of MTV and even Sesame Street?
In a Nike spot, U.S. basketball star LeBron James out-dribbles a Kung Fu master and several dragons. The Chinese departments for radio, film and television banned the commercial because of their perceived offense to national dignity. Indignation too that a black beat a white.
Car manufacturer BMW wanted to import its European “Driving Force” campaign to China. The campaign flopped. Reason: the ads depicted people sweating. Not something you can sell cars to the Chinese upper classes with. Chinese are among a group with the least active sweat glands. They are unfamiliar with arm pit odor and proud of it.
Even with as apparently global a product as the hamburger, burger chains orient themselves according to local food habits: burgers don’t have cheese in Israel because kosher restaurants keep meat and milk apart. Burgers in India are prepared with vegetables or mutton since Hindus are forbidden beef. In Muslim countries, restaurants aren’t allowed to serve pork – there, McDonald’s was forced to apologize for the taste of beef and pork in its french fries. The Japanese eat their burgers with a knife and fork. Whereas they must eat other foods with their hands for religious reasons, for example rice balls and raw fish.
Isolated instances? Or are cultural differences critical to the design of global brand management? If they are, what are the tasks put before brand managers? More