Saturday, March 22, 2014

Learn Marketing to Other Cultures Through Sushi Preparation

That look delicious to you? If so, you're probably not Japanese.

The title is mildly misleading - the video has nothing to do with marketing - it is a video of a faux-"Iron Chef" contest between an American and a Japanese sushi chef on a popular Japanese variety hour show. On the other hand, it provides a very powerful lesson on cultural expectations and perception, which are the most important things in the world when marketing to ethnic groups that are not your own.

The Video:

This contest is between the two chefs + sous, and they present 3 rounds of sushi/sashimi dishes. You can tell that they went out of their way to find an mid-level American sushi chef who likes to fry things to compete against the experienced and traditional Japanese chef - it's easy to see from just the knife work and presentation styles alone. For sports fans, it'd be akin to asking an American high school football team to compete against a professional rugby team on their terms. However, it is interesting to note that the review panel is all American.

So, first point:
No one likes losing at their own game.

Yes, the reactions might be real, but the situation is planned from the beginning. A Japanese show isn't going to chance having their own lose on nationally-broadcast TV in a contest of their own signature cuisine - even with the All-American panel, the difference in skill set between the two chefs is vast. No cultural group likes to watch what they have claimed as their own taken from them.

Think about it this way: It's why French winemakers and tastemakers got their collective panties in a bunch when a wine from California won all those years ago.

But, any reasonable person in the modern age will understand and should appreciate the spread of their culture's contributions to the world, and there will always be room for non-natives who want to learn. Just don't be surprised if you do it legitimately better than them and get some nasty looks.

Now, it's important to note that there is about zero English that you can hear over the dubbing in this video, but that leads to an excellent second point:
Emotional Responses Overcome Language Barriers

Just watch the video and just listen to the Japanese crowd as the American prepares sushi, and at the end when the judging begins. Their sounds and facial expressions convey all of the information you need to figure out what they are thinking. This is important when trying to pitch to a business owner or end user who can't communicate with you fully. If your product is good, can you convey that to that person? Can you evoke an emotional response even when you can't speak their native language?

Finally, going back to the fried sushi concept -Most Japanese folks like some fried things (tempura), but the majority of the cuisine is eaten REALLY FRESH or REALLY FERMENTED, and the American chef completely ignored the roots of the culture in which sushi developed from, and took the Southern-Fried route as well as adding flavors that completely mask the flavor of fresh fish like mango and jalapeno (a big no-no in fine sushi cuisine). He probably thought he had it in the bag with an all-white judging panel, but no, he completely missed the point, and lost for it.

And so, third and final point:
New Isn't Always Better. Even if it is, Not Always Appreciated 

The American-style fried sushi stems from not being able to get fresh, high quality fish, so a lot of the sushi styles you may have come to enjoy are actually from the mindset of "Let's Hide the Lower Quality With Novelty and Strong Flavors" marketing game, so serving a fried roll to experienced sushi eaters is like serving a filet mignon to a steak lover well done and covered in a spicy pepper sauce. Even if you started with fresh products and good intentions, they'll assume you're serving them old product and trying to pull some shenanigans.

Going back to a previous paragraph, the core concept of Japanese cuisine is to take something really fresh or fermented and create a balanced flavor profile with whatever dish they make with it, a several thousand year-old concept that gets thrown out the window by the American chef, and just reinforces the idea that American cuisine and the fusions styles that comes from it is a set of unbalanced dishes with too much masking flavors and fat, a cultural perception that even the American panel understands and stands behind in the end.

Well, that was a lot to learn about cultural differences and perception from a simple rigged sushi competition. Hope you enjoyed this informative opinion piece.

No comments:

Post a Comment