As we outlined previously, French people do not necessarily dislike their American counterparts. In fact, as with most of the world, many young French people are heavily influenced by American pop culture, given the prevalence of American music and film on the global stage. This wasn’t always the case, though, and I wanted to share a really interesting story I remember my Strategic Marketing professor telling me about how McDonald’s began the infiltration of American culture into France.
When McDonald’s emerged in France in 1979, the country didn’t have fast food. It was a new concept. As highlighted in another post, the French and eating fast typically don’t mix. Secondly, the audience McDonald’s market research team found that the people it should target initially were those old enough to remember World War 2, as they were the sector of the French population who liked America, which McDonald’s represented, the most. These older people simply didn’t understand the concept of eating with their hands. So the marketing task became a matter of educating their target market first on the process of ordering without being served by a waiter, then seating themselves, and finally that they could actually touch food with their hands—a huge taboo in traditional French culture.
So when McDonald’s first started marketing in France, their advertisements introduced an elderly couple demonstrating a range of “firsts” in the country: walking into the McDonald’s lobby (which was vastly different from competing cafes), standing in line (a new concept), reviewing the menu (French cafes at the time—besides obvious tourists ones— didn’t have a menu, as the French genetically understand what is on a café’s menu), ordering with a smiling server (French restaurant staff rarely smile), and bringing their own food back to the table (French cafes always had a gausson, or waiter). When the couple was set to eat, they realized that they didn’t know how to eat the hamburger, reaching for a knife and fork (as touching food was unthinkable in France). Finally, a group of teenagers spotted the couple, approached them and demonstrated how to pick up and unwrap the burger.
McDonald’s became popular in France, and the French had become American without even knowing it!