International Marketing: Products and Culture

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Products and Culture
As a marketer, we all know that a product is more than a physical item: It is a bundle of satisfactions (or utilities) that the buyer receives. These utilities include its form, taste, colour, odour, and texture; how it functions in use; the package; the label; the warranty; and any other symbolic utility received from the possession or use of the goods. In short, the market relates to more than a product’s physical form and primary function. The values and customs within a culture confer much of the importance of these other benefits. In other words, a product is the sum of the physical and psychological satisfactions it provides the user. A product’s physical attributes generally are required to create its primary function. The primary function of an automobile, for example, is to move passengers from point A to point B. This ability requires a motor, transmission, and other physical features to achieve its primary purpose. The physical features or primary function of an automobile generally are in demand in all cultures where there is a desire to move from one point to another by ways other than by foot or animal power. Few changes to the physical attributes of a product are required when moving from one culture to another. However, an automobile has a bundle of psychological features that are as important in providing consumer satisfaction as its physical features. Within a specific culture, other automobile features (color, size, design, brand name, price) have little to do with its primary function—the movement from point A to B—but do add value to the satisfaction received. The meaning and value imputed to the psychological attributes of a product can vary among cultures and are perceived as negative or positive. To maximize the bundle of satisfactions received and to create positive product attributes rather than negative ones, adaptation of the nonphysical features of a product may be necessary. Coca-Cola, frequently touted as a global product, found it had to change Diet Coke to Coke Light when it was introduced in Japan. Japanese women do not like to admit to dieting, because the idea of a diet implies sickness or medicine. So instead of emphasizing weight loss, “figure maintenance” is stressed. Adaptation may require changes of any one or all of the psychological aspects of a product. A close study of the meaning of a product shows the extent to which the culture determines an individual’s perception of what a product is and what satisfaction that product provides. The adoption of some products by consumers can be affected as much by how the product concept conforms to their norms, values, and behaviour patterns as by its physical or mechanical attributes. When analyzing a product for a second market, the extent of adaptation required depends on cultural differences in product use and perception between the market the product was originally developed for and the new market. The greater this cultural differences between the two markets, the greater the extent of adaptation that may be necessary. When instant cake mixes were introduced in Japan, the consumers’ response was less than enthusiastic. Not only do Japanese reserve cakes for special occasions, but they prefer the cakes to be beautifully wrapped and purchased in pastry shops. The acceptance of instant cakes was further complicated by another cultural difference: Many Japanese homes do not have ovens. An interesting sidebar to this example is the company’s attempt to correct for that problem by developing a cake mix that could be cooked in a rice cooker, which all Japanese homes have. The problem with that idea was that in a Japanese kitchen, rice and the manner in which it is cooked have strong cultural overtones, and to use the rice cooker to cook something other than rice is a real taboo. The problems of adapting a product to sell abroad are similar to those associated with the introduction of a new product at home. Products are not...
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