McDonald’s franchise learns to adjust to regional tastes and cultures in Asia. This piece also appeared in the Spring 2010 issue.
By Jonathan Chan
With golden arches that promise to have served billions and billions, everyone has been to a McDonald’s. But have you ever wondered what McDonald’s is like abroad? The multinational chain currently boasts over 31,000 establishments worldwide. And even though the franchise has now effectively integrated into Asian culture, there are still some notable differences.
“I would say the biggest difference is the menu,” says Jeff Shaw, a junior Finance major studying abroad in Hong Kong. “One item that comes to mind is a pork burger marinated in a Chinese sauce.”
Covering a dozen Asian nations, McDonald’s has adapted itself to regional tastes, knowing full and well that failure to abide cultural norms can lead to controversy. This was the case for McDonald’s in India when customers discovered the French fries were soaked in beef extract. And as a majority of Indians do not consume meat products, the public was rightfully outraged.
Since then, the global chain has assured that its offerings respect local cultures. Popular items in India include the McAloo Tiki, a burger with a vegetarian party made out of potatoes, peas and spices. Just in case a vegetarian item does not sound appealing, you can always get the Chicken McCurry Pan instead.
Within the Greater China Region, consisting of Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, different commercials are catered to each region. “The McDonalds in Hong Kong are very straightforward,” comments Allison Ye, a junior Finance major who studied in Hong Kong last semester. “It’s not creative at all. The commercials are short and simple, only highlighting the product.”
Meanwhile, commercials in mainland China may feature that of Taiwanese pop-king Wang Lee Hom. In one commercial, the company poked fun at his name, which, in Mandarin, sounds like the colors red, yellow and green, to introduce three new Chicken McNuggets sauces: red Thai sweet-and-sour, yellow honey mustard and green sweet vinegar.
Miles away in Japan, commercials bring out the personality of each product offered. To introduce the French-style Tomato McGrand, for example, high-fashion models posed with the burger, showing off its gourmet taste. Meanwhile, the Mega Teriyaki Burger was shot featuring much of the teriyaki sauce oozing out in order to show how juicy the burger was.
“McDonald’s has become a place where dating couples go,” James Tsao, department head of Syracuse University’s advertising department, says. In fact, McDonald’s in Asia have enough space to be considered casual dining and even studying space.
“It’s always really busy and it caters to a lot of people like college students, kids and business people,” Lilian Chan, a sophomore magazine journalism student from Malaysia, says. Some of McDonald’s operations in Asia offer free wireless connection and air conditioning, making it the perfect place to grab a bite and study for that big exam.
Based on personal travels to Asia, I’ve noticed that the customers who stay the longest are students. Some McDonald’s are open 24 hours and actually offer a late night deal, such as free supersized fries, to attract college students.
Overall, McDonald’s across Asia bring a new perspective to fast food dining. Check one out the next time you’re on that side of the globe.