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RESEARCH INSIGHT | Cultural Respect: The Secret Sauce in Marketing Culturally Mixed Symbolic Products

The Research

Culturally mixed symbolic products (hybrid products) from global foreign brands have the potential to appeal to a wide audience in today’s global market. However, marketing these products in emerging markets can be challenging. For example, Starbucks moon cakes did not sell well initially in China. However, they became one of the firm’s big success stories after it combined the mid-autumn festival theme with its coffee culture, creating a new kind of moon cake, thus turning the product with the unusual Western taste (Starbucks beverage flavors) into a desired consumer choice. From a marketing perspective, this mixing of two cultural elements in one product is an innovative and exciting strategy. It moves beyond simple adaptation of an existing product to an international market to an integration of local iconic attributes into a new product. The authors explore how to avoid the pitfalls of this strategy.

Cultural respect is key in effectively tapping local cultural sources for global foreign brands in emerging markets. For example, the Burberry Fu scarf was unsuccessful. Fu, the Chinese character for prosperity/luck, is a symbol for the Chinese New Year festival, and Burberry scarves were sold with the Chinese character stitched in bright red thread. However, for the Chinese New Year festival, the Fu character is typically displayed upside-down, meaning that prosperity/luck has arrived. Burberry missed this important cultural cue and, therefore, failed to convey deep respect for and understanding of Chinese culture. As such, consumers did not perceive a motivation of respect, nor did they ascribe the product with local “iconness.”

 

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What You Need to Know

  • In today’s global market, culturally mixed symbolic products have the potential to appeal to a wide market.
  • Watch out for the potential landmines of cultural disrespect (e.g., Burberry Fu scarf debacle)
  • It’s key to approach product development with cultural respect and the goal of achieving local “iconness.”
 

Abstract

The extant literature has not examined the conditions that govern integrative and exclusionary reactions to cultural hybrid products with sufficient detail. Within an emerging-market setting, this study explores how culturally mixed symbolic products (CMSPs) from foreign global brands can avoid antagonistic consumer attitudes. Building on social categorization theory, the authors argue that foreign global brands are viewed as belonging to an out-group and may thus encounter difficulties in tapping local cultural capital, resulting in a negative relationship between brand globalness and consumer attitude toward CMSPs. However, they contend that product category moderates this relationship such that there is a stronger negative effect for nonfood products than for food products. Moreover, the authors theorize that (1) cultural respect by foreign global companies directly enhances consumer attitudes toward CMSPs and (2) cultural respect attenuates the negative brand globalness–CMSP attitude link. These hypotheses are tested using a representative consumer sample from eight provinces/municipalities in China (n = 646). Results provide important implications for global companies on how to benefit from local cultural resources in their localization processes.

Xiaoling Guo, Martin Heinberg, and Shaoming Zou (2019), “Enhancing Consumer Attitude Toward Culturally Mixed Symbolic Products from Foreign Global Brands in an Emerging-Market Setting: The Role of Cultural Respect,” Journal of International Marketing, 26 (3),79–97.