Yesterday my wife returned from an almost 3 week trip to Asia. She spent about half her trip in Taipei and the other half in Shanghai. I love when she makes trips across the Pacific because I know she’ll be returning with some neat “Asian” stuff.
Today, the National Marketing Director for Whole Foods, Heather Kennedy was the guest lecturer in my branding class. Heather spent a good deal of time speaking about Whole Foods’ brand “authenticity” and how they become authentic. Primarily they maintain authenticity by letting the individual Whole Foods teams buy locally to relate to their 11 regions around the country. Thus in the eyes of the local consumer they have authentic local foods.
It made me think about the stuff that my wife just brought back from Asia, which was made by US multi-national brands. My two examples here are Kit Kat and Disney:
Both the Kit Kat bars and the Donald Duck keychain are instantly recognizable and clearly different from what we see here in the US. Kit Kat introduced flavors that the Asian markets find tasty (I think the green tea was better). The Kit Kat packaging was also different. It had 2 individually wrapped sets of double sticks, placed in a box, rather than 4 sticks just a paper wrapper.
Disney changed the proportions of Donald’s eyes and head to be similar to what is common in Asian anime. Cute cartoon characters are everywhere in Asia. The US’s Disney version of Donald just wouldn’t be cute enough.
The brands changed some of what makes them appear authentic in the US to create authenticity for another culture. Changes made to these products allowed the brands to penetrate into new markets and not seem foreign. All of this made me think that authenticity is a relative and malleable concept. My big take away here is to first know your target market, and then present their ideal of authenticity to them.