The social media tweets and Instagram/Facebook posts sent out by dealers and outlets of some top order multinational consumer brands in Pakistan in support of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ and ‘Right to Freedom’ are simply shocking and deserve universal condemnation. Such posts by dealers of those popular MNC brands expose, if anything, their thoughtless marketing misadventure in business extremism. They mock at the 21st century’s most famous marketing strategy ‘think local, act local’ promoted by Coca-Cola’s former global CEO Douglas Daft in 2000 AD and management thinker Theodore Levitt’s provocative classic ‘The Globalisation of Markets’ published in Harvard Business Review so many years ago.
It was quite natural that those highly sensitive and deplorable ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ campaign by some of the top MNC brand dealers/outlets in Pakistan, including South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia, Japanese Suzuki and Isuzu, and US food chain KFC, all having big presence in India, received a big public backlash in this country. The brand holders can’t shake off their responsibility of the highly mischievous acts of their dealers and outlets.
Although some of those overenthusiastic MNCs in Pakistan, which are also involved in doing business India, were quick to deplore the insensitive public communication by their dealers and outlets in Pakistan, the act exposes the poor information handling strategy of these global firms in local markets. Few can blame the large section of Indians who gave a call to boycott those politically offensive global brands. The onus is purely on those MNCs and their control mechanisms across the border
Maybe, those MNCs care little for the design of management control and management accounting in third world markets often plagued with strong religious, cultural and political extremism. For global companies and brands, executing management control across borders is crucial. Unfortunately, few know how to exercise such controls at the ground level in difficult markets which rarely feature in so-called comprehensive studies by researchers on the subject.
The role of those global brand managers in the relatively small Pakistani market clearly remains a suspect. It is for the concerned MNCs at the level of their respective global headquarters to find out if those local brand managers have close ties or unholy alliances with political and regulatory actors, agents and institutions in Pakistan. Also, they could identify the factors that led their subsidiaries to engage in such a highly contentious political activity as questioning the status of Kashmir and ‘right to freedom’ of Kashmiris.
Few global brand managers will contest the fact that subsidiaries of global companies need to adapt to economic, political and other conditions in the respective host countries. It would be criminal to ignore political and cultural divides in host countries to manage their marketing operations. MNCs are expected to combine diverse mechanisms like planning, standardised procedures and training to control their foreign subsidiaries in a politically sensitive environment. To push up sales, global-brand owners seem to listen more closely to their local business partners about how to adapt product attributes, advertising messages and campaigns to local tastes. They delegate more authority over product development and marketing to local managers. And, that could sometimes invite a serious problem as being experienced in India over the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ cerebration campaign participated by some of Pakistan-based international brand handlers in their local market. Global brands taking political stances in highly controversial issues can expect to face challenges both at local and international levels. There is no reason to believe that the concerned international brand managers in Pakistan were unaware of the objectionable social media posts by their local dealers and sales outlets offending the sentiment of millions of Indian consumers across the border.
However, there is nothing new about global brands taking stand on topical social and political issues. Big names such as The Body Shop, Harley Davidson, Patagonia and Dove are known to have stood for political and social change, choosing to provide voice for an undervalued segment. But, in such cases, their political discourses were campaigned at both the local and global levels. They include public advertisements to champion the cause of women’s diversity, the need for sustainable materials and environmental activism, the search for individual freedom, and the fight for animal rights, pertaining to both the local and global spheres.
Starbucks’ stand against former US president Donald Trump’s policy of immigration ban where Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees after Trump’s announcement in January 2017 was well known. That was purely a political stand that had supporters and enemies at both the local and global levels. Starbucks support for LGBT invited enormous problems for the brand from Moslem religious groups in Malaysia and Indonesia, which campaigned to boycott the brand. Australia’s international airline Qantas came under fire for its stance on marriage equality. Even the country’s tennis icon Margaret Court wrote an open letter criticising the airline’s stance.
But, nothing to beat the highly aggressive and irresponsible behaviour of those select international brand owners and their local dealers and outlets in Pakistan causing injury to the sentiments of a very large number of Indian consumers that finally forcing the Indian government to act. India had to summon South Korea’s ambassador in New Delhi, last week, to express its displeasure and disapprobation over the social media posts by Hyundai Motor’s Pakistani outlets. South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-Yong expressed his regret during a conversation with Indian Foreign Minister J. Jaishankar over the issue.
The matter raised a rare moment of diplomatic discord between Asia’s two leading economies. South Korea is one of India’s top 10 trading partners. Lately, India zoomed past China to become Hyundai’s biggest production base and sales market outside South Korea. India is the largest overseas market for Hyundai in total sales, globally. The social media posts in Pakistan by those multinational brand dealers and outlets questioning India’s territorial integrity are absolutely unwarranted and devoid of all ethics. It is time that global brand managers draw a strong line between thinking and acting local. (IPA Service)