If I have a handful of silver it is because I work and my wife works, and we do not, as some do, sit idling over a gambling table or gossiping on doorsteps never swept, letting the fields grow to weeds and our children go half-fed!
- Pearl S. Buck -
"Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff?", asks actor Neal McDonough in a Cadillac commercial ("Poolside") that aired in 2014. "Other countries, they work. They stroll home. They stop by the café," he says. "They take August off. Off. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy-driven, hard-working believers, that's why. As for the stuff, that’s the upside of taking just two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the commercial sparked controversy over the condescending, arrogant delivery of its core message ("Buy American"). Some of its critics claimed that:
- "Fans consider it a succinct summary of the American Dream, while detractors see nothing more than a disgraceful diatribe of misguided values." (Motortrend);
- "There are plenty of things to celebrate about being American, but being possessed by a blind mania for working yourself into the ground, buying more stuff and mocking people in other countries just isn't one of them." (Huffpost);
- "That commercial for Cadillac is everything France hates about the US." (PRI);
- "Another magazine, Nouvel Obs, said the ad implied the French were ‘lazy, spending time relishing their paid holidays’." (GM Authority).
The commercial appeals to a sense of national pride, to American values (work hard, take responsibility for your choices and for their outcomes), to a certain lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of material achievements.
As highlighted in some previous articles (available here, and here), however, both motivation - the process that initiates and defines goal-oriented attitudes and behaviour - and values are culture-bound (deep culture/below-the-waterline knowledge), and a message intended for a certain audience may not necessarily resonate with people from a different culture.
Furthermore, according to Hofstede’s framework:
- the North American culture is individualistic and “masculine”: defined by a "live to work" mentality, highly competitive, ego driven, it shows a preference for power and strength and a tendency to strive for success and affirmation. Long work hours are the norm, workers are expected to be ambitious and to aim for career progression within the organization, the stress level is usually high. Results, career development, performance feedback are common priorities;
- the French culture, on the other hand, is individualistic and "feminine": defined by a "work to live mentality", it emphasizes the importance of personal time and of a healthy life-work balance (in France, the legal length of the working week is 35 hours), "weak" members of the society are treated with empathy and supported by the collectivity (securité sociale, the French welfare system).
With regard to the importance of food and conviviality in the French culture, it’s also worth mentioning that France is polychronic, meaning that social- and business time do often overlap: “Thibaut de Saint Pol, sociologist at the Ecole normale supéreure de Cachan, says that lunch time is just traditionally more important in France than in other countries. 'Meals are the most enjoyable moments of the day. We only miss them on rare occasions'”.
Does the above ring a bell? Besides Cadillac, what other US brand failed to understand the importance of social time for its target customers?
Long time readers and LinkedIn connections might have guessed the answer already: that brand was Starbucks.
During a trip to Israel back in 1998, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had a bad cup of coffee at the King David Hotel and quickly assumed that the country needed to be educated to the taste of good quality coffee. “People will taste the difference in Starbucks’ coffee”, he reportedly stated. 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, "In Israel, Italian cafe offerings like espresso and macchiato coexist with strong, flavorful Turkish coffee made simply by brewing coffee grinds in hot water and letting them settle into 'mud' at the bottom of the cup. It’s rare to see standard American filter coffee — in my experience it tastes like weakly flavored hot water."
Coffee taste aside, what Schultz failed to noticed was that the Israeli customers prefer 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:
"Rarer still is America’s culture of coffee to go. Rather than walk with their coffee in a paper cup, Israelis, especially Tel Aviv residents, are notorious for sitting down with their ceramic espresso cup and not budging for hours — taking the time to catch up, talk politics or grow their startup. So prevalent is Tel Aviv’s cafe culture that Yedioth Ahronoth, a leading daily, investigated why so many of the city’s residents seem to laze at cafes instead of working."
Is there any link between France and Israel? Actually, yes: according to the Globe Project - a study of cross-cultural leadership that spans over 60 countries and cultures -, both Israel and France belong to the Latin Europe Cluster (Israel is included in this cluster because it was founded by Jewish people who migrated from Latin Europe to Eastern Europe to escape religious repression, but maintained their ties to Latin Europe over the centuries).People in both countries share similar socialization patterns - they love a good, passionate debate about any topic under the sun, and they're happy to sit in a café (or in a restaurant) for hours to discuss business and personal matters over a meal, or several cups of strong coffee - and a similar understanding of “time” (both societies are polychronic, while the US society is monochronic).
Dear readers, the above article is an excerpt from the new course on Psychographic Segmentation, now available at: https://courses.muditaconsultancy.com/courses/Psychographic-Segmentation.
As anticipated on LinkedIn, since 2020 has been financially challenging for many of my friends and supporters, Mudita’s courses will be offered on a PWYW scheme until the end of the year (Free enrolment/”Buy me a coffee” option).
Hope you’ll enjoy the course, and hope you’ll feel like recommending it to others. Thanks as always for your precious support,
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