Tags: Chinese New Year, Kuala Lumpur, localization, mcdonald's, visual culture
One of my favorite parts of experiencing a new culture is checking out advertisements and visual forms of media. Many companies adapt their marketing strategies to fit regional norms and local consumer tastes rather than standardizing their marketing strategy. Common foods and products often take on different characteristics based on where they are being sold. Western fast food giants, like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, are especially adept at customizing their ads, menus, and restaurants to fit local cultures.
From a monorail station in KL, I saw a huge McDonald’s billboard advertising a beef “Prosperity Burger” sold during Chinese New Year. The burger is made to please local tastes with a spicy black pepper sauce and sliced onions on top. As with all major fast food chains in Malaysia, the beef and chicken is Halal to ensure that all customers, including those of Islamic faith, can dine there.
Rather than a super-sized fountain soda, the Malaysian advertisement features two orange drinks. Oranges are given to friends and family members during Chinese New Year as symbols of health and prosperity. Instead of the salty shoelace fries McDonald’s is known for in the States, curly fries accompany the burger at this time of year in Malaysia. (Locals have told me that they only buy the Prosperity Burger “for the curly fries.”)
McDonald’s colors are perfect for Chinese New Year. Red is the dominant color during this time of year because it is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck, fortune, and…prosperity! Yellow or a golden color is associated with good luck and abundance and is commonly used for the lion costume in the Chinese Lion Dance.
As always, McDonald’s equates a visit to one of their locations with spending quality time with family and friends and making lasting memories. Chinese New Year is a time for reuniting with family and engaging in annual traditions. Watch this Prosperity Burger commercial to see how McDonald’s fits this meal into local culture.
There are six references to the main Chinese New Year traditions in this 40-second commercial. First, it refers to “red packets,” which are red envelopes filled with cash and given by elders to the younger generation and those who are single for good luck. These red envelopes are called “ang pow.” Second, the commercial shows the family using chopsticks to toss the curly fries in the air. This is a tradition commonly used for a dish called yee sang, is which made of shredded carrots, cucumbers, mango, raw fish, and other ingredients and is served as the first course during Chinese New Year dinners. The entire table gathers around the dish and uses their chopsticks to toss it gently in the air and back on the platter. Then everyone puts some of the yee sang in a small bowl and eats it for prosperity.
Third, the day and night before Chinese New Year, it is also common for Chinese families to clean their houses to clear away the past year and prepare the house for new beginnings. Fourth, lion dance performances are held in pubic spaces throughout the month to ward off evil spirits. Fifth, it is customary to show reverence for elders at family gatherings. Finally, the most important aspect of Chinese New Year is being among family and friends and including those who may not have families of their own. McDonald’s captures many of the most important aspects of Chinese New Year and persuades consumers that having them all is as easy as purchasing a Prosperity Burger meal.
A second example of localization is Pizza Hut’s “Ring of Fortune” pie. Cheese on the pizza and in the corn-flake laden crust guarantees double the fortune and happiness and is a sure way to unite any family! View a commercial for this Chinese New Year pizza here.
In the United States, fast food chains provide quick, inexpensive meals. However, dining at an establishment like McDonald’s or Pizza Hut is a special occasion in Malaysia, as it is in many other countries around the world. The menu is more expensive than many local options and most venues have waiters and nicer interiors to entice local customers into splurging on a meal for a Western dining experience.