In a previous article we’ve discussed about an advertising campaign that contributed to the expansion of Lipton’s product range in China: what made it successful was the adoption of a “glocalised” approach (according to sociologist Roland Robertson, glocalisation - a concept that combines the words “globalisation” and “localisation” - means that “in order to produce goods for a market of diverse consumers, it is necessary for any producer…to adapt his/her product in some way to particular features of the envisaged set of consumers in a foreign market” [1]) that took into consideration values and preferences of the local audience.

At the time (2003) Chinese customers were not used to green tea bags, preferring to brew leaves in hot water according to what tradition suggested: tea bags were therefore introduced to the market gradually and unobtrusively, through a subtle campaign that “hinted” at the presence of the bag in the picture without however showing it and placed strong emphasis on important elements of the Chinese culture - such as mountains and flowers - instead.

Twelve years later, Unilever was reported signing agreements with the governments of Guizhou and Anhui provinces to advance sustainable tea development projects, while claiming that their business in China doubles approximately every five years.

Did the choice to opt for a glocalised advertising campaign work in Unilever’s favour? Judging by the results, it certainly did.

Would a globalised approach have worked just as smoothly and effectively? We cannot tell for sure, but what we do know, however, is that the “one size fits all” formula backfired for Starbucks in Israel around the same time Lipton was successfully promoting green tea bags in China.

In 1998, Starbucks’ CEO had a bad cup of coffee at the hotel he was staying during his trip to Israel and quickly assumed that the country needed to be educated to the taste of good quality coffee. After a long and painful research for a local partner, in 2001 Starbucks did finally set the first of six stores in Tel Aviv: two years and -$6 million later, the stores were closed and the plan to conquer the Israeli market abandoned.

What went wrong in the attempt to bring frappuccino to the Holy Land?

Little did Schultz know about the habits and the taste of his new customers: while the coffee he had in King David might have been unremarkable, “One market study estimated that 500 new coffee branches had opened in Israel in the three years before Schultz’s visit. And one thing they really had in common was that they all had really good coffee, good espresso, good cappuccino, relatively strong, especially compared to what Americans are used to.” [2]

Furthermore, the Israelis preferred to have their coffee sitting, having something to eat, chatting with friends: coffee-to-go made them feel rushed and unwelcome, and after trying Starbucks once, they failed to turn into repeat customers.

Both Chinese and Israelis belong to what anthropologist Edward Hall defined as “high-context” cultures [3], characterised by a high level of implicit social norms that may not be immediately visible to an external observer: while Unilever could rely on knowledge of the local audience built over the course of several years, Starbucks lacked both the insight into the new market and a suitable support network that might have eased their expansion plan.

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SOURCES

[1] Robertson, Roland(1994)."Globalisation or glocalisation?",The Journal of International Communication, 1:1, 33-52, DOI:: 10.1080/13216597.1994.9751780

[2] Online: https://tlv1.fm/business/2016/08/15/why-starbucks-failed-in-israel/

[3] Hall, E. T. (1976). "Beyond culture". New York, NY: Doubleday