FEATURE15 December 2016

Cultural chameleon

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Asia Pacific FMCG Features Impact

Budweiser has adapted its all-American image to fit the Chinese market with startling success, thanks to its understanding of how the ‘ideal man’ differs between the two countries, says William Landell Mills of TNS


A few years back, management guru Peter Drucker wrote that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. American beer brand Budweiser has been living this mantra for some time now; it has achieved huge success in China by stepping aside from its iconic American forms and adapting to the local culture in a way that is both impressive and surprising. 

It’s surprising because it so forcefully underlines the fact that a familiar global brand can mean such different things in different places. It puts paid to what remains of the idea that with our Nikes and Apples, humankind is merging into some shared digital culture. It suggests that, ultimately, successful global brands need to be as much vectors of cultural difference as icons of universality.

A recent Chinese Bud TV spot illustrates this well. It’s set in an expensive western-style restaurant in a Shanghai skyscraper. A young Chinese yuppie in black tie sits ...