All Context Is Cultural: Part 2

The last time I was in Beijing was shortly before the summer Olympics.  When I had some free time I walked around, observing the changes that the city had undergone since my previous visits.  Towards dinner time on one of my walks,  I was feeling particularly hungry for pizza.  Being a New Yorker, pizza is comfort food.  I went into a Pizza Hut, where there was a line of people waiting to be seated.  When my turn came, I was shown to a table, handed a menu.  I observed the people around me while waiting for the food to come.  At some tables there were couples, dressed as if to impress each other on a first date.  There were families, also well-dressed.  I suddenly became self-conscious of my own appearance.  Not that I was an American but that I was very casually dressed in jeans and running shoes.

What I observed was Pizza Hut adapting to the local cultural, where going out to dinner was reserved for special occasions.

For brands to succeed across different cultures, they need to adopt and adapt.  Understanding these differences requires careful observation and non-judgmental perspective.

Disney is a great example of an American brand trying to export Americana to a different culture.  EuroDisney was the company’s first theme park outside of the U.S.A.  The cultural conflict flared up as soon as the location, in France, was announced.  In the first years of the park, again and again, Disney stubbed their toes on the local culture.   For instance, EuroDisney did not serve wine or beer at their restaurants during the first year of operations.  Alcohol was almost antithetical to the Disney brand heritage.  You could sense Disney had an almost Puritanical judgment about wine.  However, faced with poor attendance, EuroDisney adapted to the local culture in the second year.

While many of the EuroDisney executives were culturally attuned, the overall Disney organization wasn’t.  The business model was to bring the American Disneyland to Europe.  Had the organization as a whole been more attuned, they would have realized that France has nearly perfected an art form of criticizing the shallow and inauthentic Hollywood culture.  EuroDisney learned through trial and error that success meant re-interpreting the Disney brand to adapt to the local cultures.  And that meant suspending judgement about the local culture.

 

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