With the growth of global consumer market, many companies start expanding their business to foreign countries. When they get into a new market they are not very familiar with, new marketing strategies would be usually created to adapt to local culture and consumers. When you are waiting for the kids meals in Mcdonald’s in Japan, you probably can get a promotional toy of Japanese sumo instead of a superman that is very common to get in the U.S. for your child; when you step into a store of Shiseido in the U.S., you probably can find out most products have the function of anti-aging instead of whitening skin that is primarily promoted in Asia. Companies need to change their marketing strategies to fit in different countries. However, adjusting marketing strategies to meet the standard of foreign culture sometimes might hurt the branding imagine especially when it cannot correspond to human-rights policies.
IKEA recently gave us a good lesson about adapting marketing strategies to local culture. The story begins with its catalog of this year released in Saudi Arabia in early October. People in other countries felt women were totally offended on the catalog because they were even not shown on the catalog! This Swedish furniture giant totally removed women from the photos on its catalogs shipped to Saudi Arabia. As you can see on the following pictures, all the women are wiped out and only men are left on the photos. In most countries, a family means a man and a woman with kids, but on the catalog in Saudi Arabia, a family only means a man with boys. Each year IKEA publishes about 200 million copies of the catalogs with 62 version in different countries, and the pictures printed on these catalogs are very similar. This year is the first time for the company to make a big change on its marketing materials globally, and the purpose of tailoring the photos is to suit local markets and culture, as the company claims.
After the new catalog was released to public, tons of people criticized that the catalog should not omit the women on its marketing materials in Saudi Arabia because the photos conflicted with IKEA’s values to “gender equality”. Many people even photoshopped some famous photos and artworks involved in female figures to oppose IKEA’s marketing practice. Although it’s very common that women in Saudi Arabia need to gain approval from their male guardians if they want to work, study or even drive a car, the government doesn’t have any rules to ban women showing up in marketing materials. IKEA finally apologized on its official website for their changing on the catalog to Saudi Arabia: “We regret the current situation. We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.”
Besides this, IKEA also changed its marketing materials in Russia. Just a few days before IKEA released the catalog in Saudi Arabia, it removed a picture of four young people in Pussy Riot-style balaclavas from the gallery of IKEA’s Russian website. The photo was part of the marketing campaign in Russia, took the lead in the photo gallery and would become the cover for the catalog of next year. However, because three members of Pussy Riot in Russia were involved in the crimes this year, IKEA felt the photo could be viewed as a support to these three members. The company finally decided to remove the photo and replaced it with a statement to show its online users that “IKEA is a commercial organization that operates beyond politics and religion. We cannot allow our advertising project to be used as a means of propaganda of any kind.”
When companies try to adjust their marketing strategies in different countries, they should not only consider the interior cultural influence but also need to know how the changes influence exterior environment. We are not living in a single country anymore and information tends to connect people more tightly nowadays. Before a company makes a different marketing decision in a different country, it must rethink that whether the change can benefit its brand globally instead of locally.