Products and Culture

To appreciate the complexity of standardized versus adapted products, one needs to understand how cultural influences are interwoven with the perceived value and importance a market places on a product. A product is more than a physical item: It is a bundle of satisfactions (or utilities) that the buyer receives.   These include its form, taste, colour, odour,  and texture: how it functions in use; how it functions in use; the package; the label; the warranty; the manufacturer’s and retailer’s servicing; the confidence or prestige enjoyed by the brand; the manufacturer’s reputation ; the country of origin; and 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 is generally in demand in all cultures where there is a desire to move from one point to another 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 consumers with a satisfaction as its physical features. Within a specific culture, other automobile features (colour, 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 and further the idea of diet implies sickness or medicine. So instead of emphasizing weight loss, figure maintenance is stressed. Anti-American sentiment is also causing Coke problems with Muslim consumers.

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 norms, values, and behaviour patterns as by its physical or mechanical attributes. However, very compact designs by Mitsubishi, Toto( a Japanese toilet company) and others are making new inroads into Japanese kitchens A novelty always comes up as a closely integrated  cultural pattern, and this is primarily what determines whether, when, how, and in what form it gets adopted. Some financial services have been difficult to introduce into Muslim countries because the pious have claimed they promoted usury and gambling both explicitly forbidden in the Koran. Filter cigarettes have failed in at least one Asian country because a very low life expectancy   hardly places many people in the age bracket most prone to fears of lung cancer — even supposing that they shared Western attitudes about death.

When analysing 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 these cultural differences between the two markets, the greater the extent of adaptation that may be necessary.

An example of this rule of thumb involves an undisputed American leader in cake mixes, which tacitly admitted failure in the English market by closing down operations after five unsuccessful years. Taking its most successful mixes in the US market, the company introduced them into the British market. Considerable amounts of time, money, and effort were expended to introduce its variety of cake mixes to this new market. Hindsight provides several probable causes   for the company’s failure. Traditionalism was certainly among the most important. The British eat most of the cake with tea instead of dinner and have always preferred dry sponge cake, which is easy to handle; the fancy, iced cakes favoured in the US were the type introduced. Fancy iced cakes are accepted in Britain; but they are considered extra special and are purchased from a bakery or made with much effort and care at home. The company introduced what it thought to be an easy cake mix. This easy cake mix was considered a slight to domestic prowess. Homemakers felt guilty about not even cracking an egg, and there was suspicion that dried eggs and milk were not as good as fresh ones. Therefore, when the occasion called for a fancy cake, an easy cake mix was simply not good enough.