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So Sari About Your Washing Machine...
January 7, 2009 10:03 AM   Subscribe

The Washing Machine That Ate My Sari: Mistakes in Cross-Cultural Design is a fascinating article about making cross-culturally sensitive products for the Indian market. The title refers to how the Whirlpool company's introduction of the World Washer into India proved to be a financial disaster, because a millimeter gap between the washer's agitator and its drum ended up shredding most traditional Indian clothing. You can also read about how the Indian preference for warm milk at breakfast turned Kellogg's corn flakes into a big flop in India.
posted by jonp72 (43 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Bollywood Method’s probes, designed in the form of “emotion tickets” resembling movie tickets, are categorized into the nine rasas, each one expressed in a booklet through images and dialogues from Bollywood films. When interacting with products, customers record their feelings using the appropriate emotion ticket. They make a note of the service, technology, or product they were using/interacting with when they felt a particular emotion, as well as the reason they felt it.

This sounds like Scientology to me.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:19 AM on January 7, 2009


This post is just my cup of chai. Have to dash, can't wait to explore the links later.
posted by nickyskye at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2009


The Bollywood Method’s probes, designed in the form of “emotion tickets” resembling movie tickets, are categorized into the nine rasas, each one expressed in a booklet through images and dialogues from Bollywood films. When interacting with products, customers record their feelings using the appropriate emotion ticket. They make a note of the service, technology, or product they were using/interacting with when they felt a particular emotion, as well as the reason they felt it.

Actually, this is a fascinating glimpse at marketing research in a different cultural context. Cool cool post.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2009


I was going to say something about the Chevy Nova, but just learned I'd be spreading lies. Intriguing post, thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 10:34 AM on January 7, 2009


Did Kellogg ever actually ask an Indian what he ate for breakfast?

I do have to wonder about this. Wouldn't the absolute minimum market research be at least giving some Indian a box of the stuff and asking what they thought? You know, before setting up a whole supply chain and marketing blitz? That's not cross-cultural sensitivity, that's just basic DUH. I wouldn't transplant a product from Michigan to Massachusetts, let alone India, without doing at least that much.

And similarly for the washing machine. You put "Sari Cycle" on the dial. Did you try washing a sari? This isn't a problem of not "broadly, deeply, and fundamentally understand[ing a] specific target market" so much as a problem of just....not testing. At all.

Like, if I put out a food product called "Vegetarian Delight" with a label that said "contains no meat whatsoever" and marketed it to vegetarians and then they found that it was ground beef. That's not a failure to understand the vegetarian market, that's just lying.

I mean, I knew that capitalism's Invisible Hand Of Ultimate Power had been overrated, but this is seriously boneheaded.
posted by DU at 10:42 AM on January 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


Great post, thanks Jonp72!

Here are additional anecdotes re cross-cultural marketing flops!
posted by applemeat at 10:52 AM on January 7, 2009


Also, when marketing to globs of gaseous organisms that live in zero gee, don't sell them HD Sony camcorders.
posted by Pants! at 11:05 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a little dissapointed this post isn't about Nellie McKay.
posted by Green With You at 11:32 AM on January 7, 2009


As part of an aggressive global strategy, the Whirlpool Corporation designed a single, stripped-down washing-machine platform for emerging markets. Dubbed the “World Washer,” it was launched in Brazil, Mexico, China, and India, with slight feature design and styling modifications for each market to reflect local tastes.

Isn't the problem here that Americans have a ton of different brands of washing machines and "the world" gets one?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2009


International marketing means never having to say you're sari.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:19 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


In Central Asia one of the popular brands of washing powder is called "Barf" - it means snow in Farsi.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:19 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everyone likes black pudding with their breakfast though, right?
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on January 7, 2009


Emerging markets only ever have fledgling consumers. They most certainly won't ever have emerging designers, fledgling marketers, nor the young companies that employ them, and even if they did it would be much better to crush them dead with the World Washer than to support their early growth with investments into R&D and production. Globalization means global availability of our stuff, not global opportunity to create more stuff, sheesh.
posted by carsonb at 12:29 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


This sounds like Scientology to me.

Not sure if that calls for a zing! or an oh snap!, but in either case, Joe B, it appears to be proudly ignorant of the fact that rasa is a word (and concept) taken from a language that forms the ultimate root of your mother tongue, which language was being used for prayer several thousand years before Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for playing, though.

Nifty link, jonp72, thanks.

Reminds me of the celebrated, culture-clashing debut of McDonald's in India. Mrs gompa and I visited the first McD's in Delhi (the Connaught Place branch) a couple months after it opened, and our favourite part was the flamboyantly cheery greeter/floor walker they'd hired to stand near the entrance to explain the basics of North American-style fast food to the upper-caste families coming through the door.

See, even the lowliest little roadside dhaba in India wouldn't require you to pick up your own food at the counter and carry it to your own table on a tray (not even mentioning the insult of being required to bus your own table, which I seem to recall they hastily abandoned). So the greeter's job was to explain the sort of foreign-culture delights of partaking in the McDonald's buying ritual despite the premium pricing of the lamb burgers and fries. Eavesdropping on his spiel was like listening to a pale-faced tour guide describe what was happening at the ghats in Rishikesh or something.

(Of course, the even bigger mess was McD's putting beef byproducts in the flavouring of its "100% vegetarian" fries . . .)
posted by gompa at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


As part of an aggressive global strategy, the Whirlpool Corporation designed a single, stripped-down washing-machine platform for emerging markets.

The thing that bugs me is that no one ever seems to think that non-developing world (what a lamely inaccurate phrase developing world is) people would want stripped down stuff. I personally would love a tiny, bomb-proof cellphone that did calls and text and had a black-and-white interface and a battery that lasted a long time. That's it. However I live in a place where it's assumed that you always want more crap with your crap, and at the very least it needs to be coated in colors or text, preferably both. There's a bit of stripping down in response to Apple's aesthetic, particularly among licensed second-party plays-with-ipod things- it would be nice if that invaded other design realms as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:02 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought this was really interesting:

As Desai points out, “The need is to develop products that are appropriate rather than merely cheap. Nokia created a mobile phone with a flashlight; no technological miracle, but an innovation that understood the rural Indian’s needs [10].”

That's very clever. Absence of light is something we often don't think about; we're so drowned in the stuff that we don't even notice. An LED bulb can run for a LONG time on a phone battery, and just a little bit of light is all you need, most times.

I wonder how many of these ideas come back into the developed world? A phone flashlight strikes me as occasionally useful for just about anyone.
posted by Malor at 1:08 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is going to haunt me until I remember the name, but there was a fascinating book about designing useful products for the developing world. They had to useful, hopefully mutli-use, fit into the local culture, be very durable and long-lasting, and be cheap enough so people could actually buy them as opposed to just getting them as charity.

It has some really neat ideas, such as luminescent blankets for night reading and the like. It went into why the solar-powered ovens never caught on (short answer: cooking outside is a big taboo in most rural areas because then everyone can see how much, and how good, your food stock is) and why the hand-cranked flashlights never really took off (too expensive, hard to repair) Ideallly, all the products would be easily repairable, to try and create the import-replacement business model which tends to foster growth (Jane Jacob's talk about bicycles in Japan, ferexample). Damn, I wish I had the name.
posted by The Whelk at 1:13 PM on January 7, 2009


Isn't the problem here that Americans have a ton of different brands of washing machines and "the world" gets one?

In fairness to the weak marketers who launched the products half-heartedly after reading a HBR article about how big India is, they still probably sell more washing machines in the US than in India, Brazil and Mexico combined. Even the developing world has local brands to compete with. It's not really surprising that once in a while someone botches a product launch. These are just the ones where cultural difference were the root cause.
posted by GuyZero at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


A phone flashlight strikes me as occasionally useful for just about anyone.

I've seen them for sale, I think they were low-end phones from Bell Mobility. Sadly, the market research numbers probably say that North American consumers don't, for the most part, actually want these features. You're making the same mistake that the Kellogg's marketers made: that everyone else in the world wants the same things you do.
posted by GuyZero at 1:19 PM on January 7, 2009


My Casio Gz'One has a built in flashlight ...
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2009


The cheapest Nokia phone on the market in both the UK and the US about 6 or 7 years ago when I bought mine had the little LED flashlight. Black and white screen, no frills except a snake game, and a 2-3 week battery life under my typical conditions of use. I don't think it was developed with developing countries in mind.
posted by nowonmai at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2009


Isn't the problem here that Americans have a ton of different brands of washing machines and "the world" gets one?

Also, I think that part of the problem is that in some parts of the world (especially developing countries), labor is very cheap, so it may not be economically sensible to buy, say, a dishwasher. Like, there's no reason to buy a $700 (US) massage chair from Sharper Image if the going local rate for a massage at a five star spa is around $1 (USD) an hour.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:41 PM on January 7, 2009


Wouldn't the absolute minimum market research be at least giving some Indian a box of the stuff and asking what they thought? You know, before setting up a whole supply chain and marketing blitz? That's not cross-cultural sensitivity, that's just basic DUH. I wouldn't transplant a product from Michigan to Massachusetts, let alone India, without doing at least that much.

When Borders set up in New Zealand they simply ported their US catalogue and shelving system across. So Borders here have a large "Black writers" section (basically irrelevant in New Zealand) and no "New Zealand" or "Pasifika" section. Likewise they have ridiculous (by New Zealand standards) categorisations, like crap romances in the "General Literature" section (most New Zealand stores have Penny Vincenzi and the like off in the Romance section, or a General Fiction distinct from a "Literature" section).

The Borders in Wellington is still opne, but it's been sold by Borders international for losing money hand over fist. Perhaps a less arrogant approach to the local market would have helped.

A phone flashlight strikes me as occasionally useful for just about anyone.

New Zealand has yet to become regarded as a third world country, but a quick browse of the local Vodaphone store shows several of the Nokias have flashlights, as does my Sony Ericsson K700, which isn't a budget phone.

Also, I think that part of the problem is that in some parts of the world (especially developing countries), labor is very cheap, so it may not be economically sensible to buy, say, a dishwasher.

Indeed. A Brazilian woman who I work with has complained bitterly that one thing that annoys her about New Zealand is she can't afford a live-in housekeeper here, while one was cheap in Brazil.

(On the other hand, she prefers the crime rate here)
posted by rodgerd at 2:09 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is going to haunt me until I remember the name, but there was a fascinating book about designing useful products for the developing world. They had to useful, hopefully mutli-use, fit into the local culture, be very durable and long-lasting, and be cheap enough so people could actually buy them as opposed to just getting them as charity.


Nokia actually is a company that is very good about thinking along these lines. Jan Chipchase, who conducts research for Nokia, has a very good blog about his work.

"Pushing technologies on society without thinking through their consequences is at least naive, at worst dangerous, though typically it, and IMHO the people that do it are just boring. Future perfect is a pause for reflection in our planet's seemingly headlong rush to churn out more, faster, smaller and cheaper."
posted by oneirodynia at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


rodgerd: Likewise they have ridiculous (by New Zealand standards) categorisations

Oh, don't worry. Borders' categories don't make any sense in the US either. I'm not sure I've ever found what I was looking for in a Borders. I am only slightly better able to find my way around a Barnes and Noble, but trips to the bookstore usually end in rants about stupid filing. This is why I shop at Amazon. It spares my sanity (and probably my husband's too. He has to listen to me after all.)
posted by threeturtles at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2009


Couldn't they just market front-loaders? No agitator for things to get wound around.

I know front-loading washers are more expensive in the US, but perhaps the price could be brought down.
posted by bad grammar at 4:18 PM on January 7, 2009


There was a clothes washer advert shown on TV in Australia not too long ago featuring some Indian ladies. They came into possession of said washers, and the last scene shows them on the bank of the Ganges washing clothes the "traditional" way, except they were banging the clothes on the washing machines, not rocks.

It caused a bit of a stink. Apparently it was racist or something like that.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:52 PM on January 7, 2009


Oh, was juuust going to link to Jan Chipchase.

Also, was just going to page Mefi's very own infini and link to her fascinating blog when I realized that you've already linked to her work on washing machines. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 5:26 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, this is a cool topic and post. Thanks jonp72.

If there is anybody out there in the universe in cross-cultural design reading this, I would sooo love to help American companies design India-friendly items. After a decade living there I think I have an excellent idea about what US products would work there, what Western companies could manufacture to succeed on the sub-continent.

In Central Asia one of the popular brands of washing powder is called "Barf" - it means snow in Farsi.

The most popular India fudge is called barfy.

Randon money making ideas for India:

Indians do love their radios and bicycles. And American bicycle company catering to Indian needs with a variety of accessories: the family bike, the single city dwelling guy bike, the farmer bike.

(Inversely, manufacture rickshaws for USA cities)

Flashlights definitely but batteries are expensive.

The no battery shake flashlights can be bought in NYC for 2 bucks retail. Would be a major rural success. Call it Mini Bijli (mini-light or Mini-Bara Bijli, mini-big light) Or Shake-It.

"A modern waterproof flashlight that requires no batteries or bulbs. The magnetic coil when shaken for about 30 seconds will generate a charge that lights up an LED bulb for up to 5 minutes."

A small Indian company already has this idea but it could be done big.

Cheap crank generators to power up cellphones, portable radios would make major bucks.

A crank-run radio.

A cellphone-radio

Indians love fruit syrup.
Make it with American flavors:
Welch's grape syrup
Mott's apple syrup
Lipton Chai ready mix
Lipton Bed Tea
Crackerjacks Masala (spicy) or Namkeen (salty)
Ralph Lauren Khus Aftershave
Fluorescent Henna in various colors

American/Western company, Indian products
Revlon Hair Oil
Oil of Olay Skin Whitener
Crest Ayurveda toothpaste
Timex wrist watches (for the older generation with old fashioned, large faces)
Haagendazs Kulfi
Haagendazs Leechee Sorbet
Haagendazs Chickoo Sorbet
Adidas chappels
Fitness all weather sandals

There are no decent sock companies in India for 100% cotton athletic socks to wear with fitness shoes.

International House of Pancakes would be a success in India

On the import side, emeralds mined in India, that are of the lowest grade, cloudy and very dark, can be bought for 65 cents each. Why not create a fashion line imported into the West studded with 10 carats of emeralds and sell it as The Emerald Isle or Esmeralda?

Have I had too much coffee today?

That's what an exciting post will do to me. :)
posted by nickyskye at 5:52 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Design in India - an Interview with Apala Lahiri Chavan is a podcast interview with the first author of the article. She talks a little - towards the end - about the rasas methodology there as well.
posted by stevil at 6:42 PM on January 7, 2009


Oh, and I write a regular column (True Tales) in that same publication.
posted by stevil at 6:42 PM on January 7, 2009


Hmm, I was told that the reason Kellogg's failed in India was the fact that people don't think it is a meal, since there are no lentils. Maybe both are true.

Either way, you can get a freakin' kilo box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes in Original, Mango, Strawberry, Honey or Almond, for about 2USD. Which is a freaking awesome way to start the day.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:16 PM on January 7, 2009


I am insanely jealous of Jan Chipchase, the man seems to have absorbed the scope of a diplomat at leisure, the schedule of cayce pollard and the accountability of mother theresa, his photos alone are worth a gander. On the other hand there was an interview with him recently, where he was asked if there was any conflict between uncovering and articulating the fantastic social value of his products in developing countries whilst on the payroll of a corporate multinational and he had disappointingly little to say. It's a shame I can't find the interview any more.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:22 PM on January 7, 2009


Oooops, it's here, great article.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:31 PM on January 7, 2009


woohoo an FPP link, does this mean I've "arrived" interwebswise? ;p
posted by infini at 9:07 PM on January 7, 2009


(thanks for the shout out cydonian, I hadn't read the comments when i wrote, just saw the mefi traffic to my blog this morning and I was like WTF?)
posted by infini at 9:08 PM on January 7, 2009


ok, reading through some really great commentary here and since we're on the topic, I guess the self link rule can be relaxed, youse guys may enjoy the stuff that went up a couple of days ago

The 5D's of BoP Marketing: Touchpoints for a holistic, human-centered strategy
posted by infini at 9:14 PM on January 7, 2009


Sorta off-topic - B+W, Tankphone with good battery life? Motofone F3. I paid 7 pounds from ebay India.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:17 PM on January 7, 2009


Ok, another silly idea.

The Hindi word for cow is gai, pronounced like the American word, guy.
The Hindi word for milk is dood, pronounced like the American word dude.

India uses a LOT of powdered milk, usually because steady refrigeration is hard outside of the cities. Introduce powdered fruit and milk combinations as an American idea, fruit milk shakes.

In the TV commercials have animated cows talking to each other, "Hey gais (guys)." the cows answer, "Dood (dude)."
posted by nickyskye at 5:27 AM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


lord_pall: I'm curious, how long does the battery last for you for that phone?
posted by infini at 5:57 AM on January 8, 2009


I wonder how many of these ideas come back into the developed world? A phone flashlight strikes me as occasionally useful for just about anyone.

This is called a Nokia 5140, and is a great phone all around. Coupled with sturdy construction and a waterproof exterior, it is a rare example of cluefull mobile phone design. I used to own one, and I still can't understand why people buy personal electronics without waterproof, hard rubber casing.
posted by ghost of a past number at 6:21 AM on January 8, 2009


Aha! I found it!

Design For the Other 90%

It's more about "making food/water" safer than consumer productions, but some of the ideas are so neat "Load-bearing bicycles! Purification draws! Bamboo pumps!"
posted by The Whelk at 7:55 AM on January 8, 2009


The cheapest Nokia phone on the market in both the UK and the US about 6 or 7 years ago when I bought mine had the little LED flashlight. Black and white screen, no frills except a snake game, and a 2-3 week battery life under my typical conditions of use. I don't think it was developed with developing countries in mind.
posted by nowonmai at 4:27 PM on January 7 [+] [!]


Yes, I had this Nokia - it was awesome. Forever battery, wonderfully simple interface, better predictive text insertion than my current phone - and the ever useful flashlight. We had no lights behind our house, but always had a good flashlight for locking up our bikes. Those LEDs were powerful.

It didn't have a hard rubber casing like the 5140 (which I could have used, as I eventually broke mine), but was better than the next model they came out with (colour screen with much less easy to use initerface, less battery life, and no flashlight). I've gotten to the point where I don't even want to update my electronics, for fear that the new "features" mean I lose benefits of the original product, in exchange for bells and whistles I never wanted. (Who needs colour on a screen an inch wide?)
posted by jb at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2009


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