Yesterday I overheard a discussion about comparing McDonald’s and Google and how their outreach to the international community differs. This is an interesting idea. How do two very prominent American companies operating in local spaces conduct cultural diplomacy? The more I thought about it, however, the more I thought this was a huge mismatch. It’s not quite as bad as say, apples and oranges. At least not on its face. So let’s say it is like apples and honeydew mellons.
Now I’m not very good at picking produce, so bear with my analogy. Let’s say Google is the apple, perhaps a granny smith apple. This is a fairly innocuous piece of fruit. Seemingly universal. Most people have seen an apple in the media, heard of one in books (Western imported books at least), or perhaps even tasted one of the hundreds (thousands?) of varieties. Google’s ability to morph into a local product is interesting. Note their recent launch of Google in Bangla (however, as of this writing, the Google logo is styled to promote Mozart’s birthday…doesn’t help my point here).
The apple is easily stuffed in a briefcase, satchel, pocket, or put on a teacher’s desk. Eating one is simple too. Just take a bite. Simple, lightweight, portable, inconspicuous.
McDonald’s is more like a honeydew melon. The physical presence creates an impact that constantly reminds. In France, for example, the food "purists" ("fundamentalists"?) decry the generification of food that the Golden Arches brings. McDonald’s is successful at glocalization. But here’s the rub. Like the honeydew, McDonald’s is not inconspicuous. In fact, it is very visible. It must be to compete with other restaurants and eating options. The French farmer’s, for example, are constantly reminded by the site of the arches on a building or in window. On a bag being carried by a customer. Trash on the side of the road or in a rubbish bin. McDonald’s impacts the prices of downstream goods as it buys up meat (from where?) and potatoes and lettuce and ketchup and on and on. Then there are trucks moving McDonald’s goods to the stores. The honeydew does not sit neatly in a satchel (at least not mine). The honeydew isn’t sitting in your desk drawer. The skin may feel like an apple (remember I’m not good at picking produce so if they don’t feel the same to you…), and if you squint your eyes, they look similar. Eating a honeydew is a far different experience requiring more involvement from the user than a quick nash of the teeth on fruit flesh.
If the unfortunate were to happen and somebody threw one of these at you, which would you rather not be hit with? Which might make a bigger impact?
Analyzing how Google reacts to local populations, how it engages in cultural diplomacy is such a different creature (fruit) than how McDonald’s does it. When looking at the impact, we need to fully understand the thing making the impact. We need to understand how it operates in the real world, who uses the good, who sees it, and how they see it, if it is seen at all. Perhaps it is only heard.
Just some meandering thoughts…