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Marketing Tuesday: McDonalds Caters to Local Palates

I recently wrote a blog post, Lost in Translation – How Do Linguistic Differences Affect Global Marketing, on how, in line with cultural differences, advertising, commercials and marketing materials are necessarily differently constructed, conceived of, and perceived across different cultures.

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A flurry of recent media attention towards McDonald’s attempts to go upscale in Europe, brought me back to thinking about the direction in which marketing efforts are trending in an attempt to stay globally competitive in a world of increasingly porous international geographical, trade, and cultural barriers.

Multinational corporations and international companies seem to buying into the concept that altering not just their promotional or communications material, but also their products and services in line with different audiences, is an essential milestone on the path to success.

McDonald’s in London, France and other parts of Europe has revamped its interiors- replacing plastic with leather and changing the color scheme. “To make McDonald’s and a Big Mac work in the country of slow food, we felt we had to pay more attention to space and showcasing,” explained Denis Hennequin, president of McDonald’s Europe,
to the New York Times.

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The fast food giant has also made significant additions to its menu in an attempt to woo local palates, offering porridge in the UK, soup in Portugal, and French cheese in France. The New York Times reports that a food factory in Munich has been served with the task of conceiving new menus for different tastes in the 41 European countries.

McDonald’s move towards cultural sensitivity is a smart one: combined European sales have increased by 15% in the first half of this year according to the Times. And Europe isn’t even half the story. Being from India, I have noticed this strategy being adopted by the fast food giant there as well, with localized items including meatless burgers, paneer salsa wraps, and McAloo Tikkis being served up.

While clearly bent on being somewhat localized, the chain is also wisely conscious about ensuring that it does not dilute the consistency of its brand. “We would like to stay true to our roots while moving forward,” Mr. Hennequin told the Times.

This is essential. Particularly since the fast food industry runs on the basic premise of consistency (apart from speed), being sensitive to cultural differences while simultaneously maintaining the overarching message of the brand is a thin line to walk. Like so many other things, McDonalds and other big international chains out there are going to have to find a middle ground on this one. They seem to be doing fairly well so far.

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