Eat your fingers off – KFC face up to the challenges of expanding abroad
21 October 2014 by Marketing Team
It was announced recently that Colonel Sanders will be taking his fast food outlets and world famous chicken into pastures new. KFC are attempting to expand their “finger-lickin’ good” chicken into Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma. However, entering foreign markets is often a precarious venture and one which isn’t always fruitful.
Tesco unfortunately discovered this through a very expensive and ultimately unsuccessful endeavour into the American market. Marketed under the name ‘Fresh & Easy’, Tesco attempted to crack the US market by focusing on smaller grocery stores which were stocked with wholesome foods. Whilst having an undoubtable success in some of the trendier haunts of LA, most notably the store just off the Hollywood walk of fame, losses accumulated soon after the opening of its first store in 2007.
By 2013, Tesco decided it would be abandoning its 199 ‘Fresh & Easy’ stores, at a cost of roughly £1.2bn as the franchise was criticised for not meeting American tastes. One example was the preference for using just self-service machines, whereas Americans are used to typically being served by a clerk or having someone there to help bag their groceries.
Aside from the impact economically, a poor level of cross cultural awareness can sometimes lead to blunders which make for some fantastic reading. One such example is when Coors brewing company launched their bottled beers into the Spanish market. They were left very red in the face when it was discovered that their slogan “Turn it Loose” read as “Suffer from Diarrhoea”. Another example of a marketing team’s over-reliance upon free online translators or some rudimentary knowledge of the language is the story of when Parker Pen marketed a new ball point pen to the Mexican market….
The advertisement was supposed to read “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. However, the company were somehow led to believe the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, leading to the advertisement reading as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. Another classic tale is the story behind Ford’s failure to launch their vehicle ‘Pinto’ in Brazil. ‘Pinto’ is the Brazilian slang for “male genitals”, not exactly the most endearing name for a product launch. You can imagine the speed at which Ford rushed to rename the vehicle ‘Corcel’, which means ‘horse’.
Whereas some of these stories could be put down to getting lost in translation, the next story required a firm not to simply misplace a word but to completely ignore a very contentious political situation. In its 1994 campaign, Orange (the telecoms company) had to change its advertising campaign in Northern Ireland as it read “The future’s bright…. The future’s Orange”. In Northern Ireland orange suggested the Orange Order, which suggested the future was Protestant. As you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well with the Catholic Irish population.
Some companies are successful though at adapting in order to appeal to their local market. KFC needn’t look further than their fast food competitors McDonald’s, whose menu varies greatly across the world. Whether it is a McChicken Camembert in Germany (not France, we are confused too), a Ciabatta Kebab from Israel or cheesy chips with gravy (known as ‘Poutine’) served in Canada (sounds sensational) McDonald’s has responded to local cultures whilst successfully maintaining their brand…. We’re still thinking about the Poutine too.
KFC may face another challenge in Myanmar, a country which remains very poor. The GDP-per-capita is the same as Sierra Leone ($1400) and Jonah Fisher of BBC news wrote that in Yagoon (former capital of Burma) “Small teashops still clutter the pavement, selling sweet tea, coffee and Burmese snacks for patrons to nibble on as they read the papers”. It is important to note that some foreign firms have had success in Myanmar, however thus far this has been limited to largely Asian franchises.
However KFC are not new to the game and have learnt themselves from previous mistakes. Whilst attempting to enter into China, they became undone when their slogan “finger lickin good’ was marketed and unfortunately translated to “eat your fingers off”. We assume they won’t be making a similar mistake again.