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Embracing Cultural Needs in a Global Market

by on July 18, 2010

India, one of the world’s most highly populated countries, is known for its long history and diverse culture. As elegantly stated on Wiki Answers, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition.”

During my research, I found many interesting insights about Indian culture and its connection with the brand and communications market – most of all, though, the topic of food caught my eye. Unlike the US, where food is mainly considered a necessity and part of everyday life, food in India is tied directly to, and deeply integrated with, religion.

Switching gears to the marketing world… an uninformed brand enthusiast would therefore assume that because of the level of market demand, Indians would accept new ideas with open arms. They would be gravely wrong. As stated in a UPenn article:

Many multinationals didn’t think success would require much effort when their brands finally entered [India] after 1991…Things have changed. As Indian consumers became more aware of trends and advancements in technology, they began to demand similar sophistication. More important, they wanted products built to their needs. That meant not just automobiles, household appliances and consumer electronics, but also mobile phones, foods and apparel.

Since 1997, McDonald’s has expanded to 169 stores across India, serving half a million family members daily. What I found interesting is that the McDonald’s brand identity has stayed the same; Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value (QSC&V) has been easily adapted in their national marketplace. Maintaining this core brand element, as expressed in Business Week, is just the beginning:

Given how many marketers worship at the altar of brand integrity, the attempt to protect a product by changing it as little as possible around the world is understandable. And for some geographic expansions, it may be exactly the right thing to do. In India and many other countries, however, transplanting a business from one cultural, economic, and political setting to another requires more.

So, what did McDonald’s do? They customized their menu to meet Indian religious needs – completely eliminating beef and pork from the menu . The Chicken Maharaja Mac, made purely of chicken, replaced America’s Big Mac. The McAloo Tikki burger is their highest selling menu item. The list goes on. Without this tailored menu, McDonald’s wouldn’t have lasted a day in the country (food restriction was in fact one of the many reasons McDonald’s waited all the way through1997 to introduce its first store in India).

McDonald’s got it right. According to, Product Localization and Geographical Targeting are two strategies that can be implemented to further extend the franchise giant’s success in India.

In addition to adjusting flavors to Indian taste palette, McDonald’s also studied the population of prospective franchise cities, and now offers online ordering and delivery services. I would recommend that McDonald’s engage their loyal following through the use of social media. While they’ve already established a regularly updated McDonald’s Facebook page, this strategy would also entail a marketing campaign to engage the Indian peoples’ massive online presence. Seeing that brand success is mainly due to positive chatter online, McDonald’s India can gain even more visibility by hosting an online contest, allowing their audience to create a new menu item – by the Indian people, for the Indian people. This would do three important things for McDonald’s:

  1. Create new and exciting dialogue and buzz about its brand
  2. Establish and solidify brand identity between McDonald’s and its consumer base
  3. Start a movement and set a positive example for other food brands seeking to expand globally

The winner of the contest would have their recipe idea implemented into the McDonald’s India menu and featured across the country. This would also provide the dual advantage of not only giving McDonald’s enthusiasts a chance to act as ambassadors for the brand, but also further connecting a global trend within a localized market.


From → India

  1. I have been talking about a veggie burger from McDonalds for years! I had no idea! I’m in the know now due to your post!

  2. Nice post focusing on McDonald’s, they are certainly a global company that has managed to get their brand and product strategy right for the localized market of India. I have to admit the picture with all the menu items unique to India made me hungry and got me wishing that McDonald’s in America carried some of those menu items! I enjoyed the way that you continued your post into sharing a suggestion for how the brand could more actively engage target audiences in India to continue their trend of localization and get people engaged and talking. Having a contest like this could certainly drive buzz and I could imagine many people taking part in it. The one small caution I would share is to be sure that the setup you are making flows into the body and main point of your post. From reading your first two paragraphs, I started to think you were going to focus on the intersection of food and religion. Your post ended up focusing on food, but not the religion part of it – which made your first point seem out of place. I also wasn’t quite sure of the point you wanted to make by sharing that Indians might embrace new ideas because of the market demand. The quote you shared seemed instead to make the point that Indians wanted localized products, whether new or not. Aside from this confusion at the opening, your post did a good job to share a point of view, highlight a particular example you found interesting and talk about why. (4)

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