When Kentucky Fried Chicken opened up shop in Japan three decades ago, it wasn’t terribly popular. People in Japan ate very little meat, especially poultry, at the time.
What to do? Sell them what they DO eat? That would require changing menus and stuff. Expensive. The answer lies with the marketing department.
Just convince the Japanese that KFC is an American Christmas tradition.
Apparently marketing campaigns, special holiday menus, and misconceptions have managed to make the days around the Christian holiday the biggest sales days in Japan for KFC. And it’s because many people there think that Americans gobble the stuff up themselves.
A large chart on the wall lists customers’ reservations for the limited number of chicken dinners available on December 23, 24 and 25. Kentucky Fried Chicken is so popular on these three days that ordering ahead is the only way to guarantee getting the meal.
Americans are far more likely to be eating home-cooked ham and turkey, plum pudding and mince pies at Christmas. But thanks to a highly successful marketing formula, people here eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and believe they are taking part in an American tradition.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for exporting American values and ideas to others around the world. Just as I’m for importing the values and ideas of other cultures when they can enlighten and improve us. But this marketing scheme seems like outright dishonesty.
One housewife says she buys the fast food chicken every year at this time, and she expressed her surprise when she was told that people across America do not do the same. “Really?…I always crave this chicken at Christmas, and I enjoy bringing it to share at parties,” she says.
Captain Japan, who seems to be holding on by a very thin line, has some of his own observations about the issue:
“Are you going to eat at KFC for your Christmas dinner with your wife?” I asked, loosening a smoke from his pack on the desk.
“Yes,” he said, his left hand propping up his chin, his cigarette in between his middle and index finger.
“Why?” I lit the smoke and puffed twice.
“The size of the chicken is small,” he explained, releasing his grip to give a rough approximation of the chicken’s dimensions with both hands – roughly that of a brick.
This is indeed true and a positively brilliant marketing ploy on the part of KFC. How can a Japanese fit a regular butterball into one of their Mattel Barbie-sized ovens when they can’t even get it past the front door? Of course the answer is simple: provide small meager slabs of bone, skin, and fat, hence giving them what they want – less, and then charge them through the nose for the privilege. A stroke of pure genius, I say. Colonel Sanders was obviously thinking about more than just cornbread and coleslaw as side dishes when he popped his first Japanese bird in the oven on that fateful day in 1971. ‘Brigadier General Sanders’ wouldn’t have been a stretch at that point.
As I sipped my coke to soothe my nerves, I asked Junko, “So why can’t I get mashed potatoes here?”
“They are not easy to eat and not easy to make,” she answered positively.
I guess pouring a box of flakes into a bowl, adding hot water, and stirring could be extremely challenging, well at least as difficult as mastering the proper use of the fork.
“Wedge potatoes can be eaten with your fingers,” she said, just before demonstrating her point.
I suppose in the land of four convenience stores to a city block and more vending machines than trashcans, it is not surprising that expedience and ease are insisted upon when it comes to eating. But I still had to know: Why the Colonel’s chicken at Christmas?
“You can’t get a turkey easily in Japan,” she said. “KFC is close enough. Look at this (she pointed at her battered and fried breast). Can you immediately tell the difference?” If my Grandmother had been there at that moment, she would have walked outside, pulled off one of the Colonel’s arms, and banged her over the head with it.
(I’m taking it to mean that “her battered and fried breast” refers to a piece of chicken.) Again, I’ve got no beef (so to speak) with KFC or anyone else setting up shop in Japan or anywhere else. But to deliberately mislead the natives about American traditions and to muscle in by utilizing cheap marketing tactics doesn’t reflect well upon us as a nation.
To be sure, this sort of stuff doesn’t warrant response by suicide missions using hijacked airliners or improvised explosive devices buried in the roadside, and the KFC “tradition” doesn’t seem to really be offending anyone. But if corporations could exercise a little more tact and try to “blend in with” instead of “take over” other cultures, I think that the returns we see in international opinion would definitely be worth it.
Burger King in Baghdad? Great. But let’s quietly fit in over there, not bully others into submission. (That’s what the Army is for.) If they really prefer American hamburgers, supply and demand will dictate expansion. American pop culture isn’t neccessarily better or worse than anyone else’s. Just let the people decide. I believe that American ideas will do quite well on their own.