Do you pride yourself on your punctuality? You may be wasting your time in Latin American countries, where the locals tend to be about 20 minutes behind schedule.
Do not clean your plate in China. Leaving food on the plate indicates the host was so generous that the meal could not be finished.
Do not eat with your left hand in India or Malaysia. That hand is associated with unclean activities reserved for the bathroom. In Japan, direct eye contact is viewed as impolite.
Cultural risk refers to the potential for a company’s operations in a country to struggle because of differences in language, customs, norms, and customer preferences (Table 7.3 “Cultural Risk: When in Rome”). The history of business is full of colorful examples of cultural differences undermining companies. For example, a laundry detergent company was surprised by its poor sales in the Middle East. Executives believed that their product was being skillfully promoted using print advertisements that showed dirty clothing on the left, a box of detergent in the middle, and clean clothing on the right.
A simple and effective message, right? Not exactly. Unlike English and other Western languages, the languages used in the Middle East, such as Hebrew and Arabic, involve reading from right to left. To consumers, the implication of the detergent ads was that the product could be used to take clean clothes and make the dirty. Not surprisingly, few boxes of the detergent were sold before this cultural blunder was discovered.
A refrigerator manufacturer experienced poor sales in the Middle East because of another cultural difference. The firm used a photo of an open refrigerator in its prints ads to demonstrate the large amount of storage offered by the appliance. Unfortunately, the photo prominently featured pork, a type of meat that is not eaten by the Jews and Muslims who make up most of the area’s population (Ricks, 1993). To get a sense of consumers’ reactions, imagine if you saw a refrigerator ad that showed meat from a horse or a dog. You would likely be disgusted. In some parts of world, however, horse and dog meat are accepted parts of diets. Firms must take cultural differences such as these into account when competing in international markets.
7.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Competing in International Markets 216
This photo would not help sell refrigerators in the Middle East because it includes pork, a meat that is taboo in that part of the world.
217 Mastering Strategic Management