1. What factors contributed to EuroDisney’s poor performance during its first year of operations? Even though Disney has a theme song that says “It’s a small world after all”, the world remains quite diverse. The biggest factors that contributed to the poor performance during the first year of EuroDisney’s operations were: a poor understanding of the marketplace, the issues and the cultural differences between two nations and two differing approaches to business and life. The major factor was ethnocentrism of the American leaders counterbalanced by French national insecurities.
I have to suggest that the powerful and perhaps arrogant leadership style of Michael Eisner contributed to the problems. Even so, the problems were wider than that. Assuming that people would come from all over Europe as part of the business plan but failing to comprehend how diverse those consumers would be was another major part of the problem. Even though Europe has recently united as the European Union, they have been strongly distinct and independent cultures for centuries.
Disney failed to understand the French national character, their insecurities over cultural invasion after having been an occupied nation twice in the last century and their deep commitment to maintaining their identity and liberty. The arrogance of the French is based on insecurity as a global minority and the arrogance of the Americans was based on a wide open optimism and global success. The collision of the two ‘arrogancies’ was “formidable” as the French say. 2. To what degree do you consider that these factors were a) foreseeable, b) controllable by either EuroDisney or the parent company Disney?
A study in history and an understanding of the characters of Europe and the European market place would have enabled the Disney executives to anticipate many of the problems. Some problems were controllable and others were inevitable. Those that were inevitable, however, needed an approach that would soften the reaction rather than exacerbate it. It was inevitable that the choice of France as the location would ruffle French feathers. Their history of occupation shaped their reaction. Their coolness to all things anglophile is legendary.
If we simply consider an individual personality, it would be easily understandable that a proud woman who had been enslaved and brutalized might have some lingering issues with dominant behaviour and may especially have trouble looking into the eyes of her rescuers who had seen her at her worst. Even so, they chose France perhaps for its cache in the American psyche (more ethnocentricity). The dominance of the American executive insisting on only English being spoken was like pouring gas on the situation in a culture that monitors words which are absorbed from other languages by an official government body.
The idea of pushing business according to an American ethos was an affront to the French who take their liberty and unionization very seriously. Coming from the union free Southern United States, the clash was profound. These were all quite predicable for anyone who cared to see beyond their own ways. 3. What role does ethnocentrism play in the story of EuroDisney’s launch? The truth is embodied in this seemingly ambiguous statement “you don’t know what you do not know”. The trap is that when you do not understand or know something there is no little red light that says “you don’t get it”.
In fact, there is no perception at all that there is something missing. Ethnocentricity carries us deeply into this trap and Disney fell head long into it. They certainly had the resources to get marketing opinion from European sources that would have saved them millions in mistakes. I think though, that the powerful personality of Eisner, coming off of several victories where he forced his vision through the objections of the American business community to win big and be therefore validated set the entire EuroDisney enterprise up for failure.
Eisner and his trusted team believed that any opposition or obstacle had to be overcome with strength of will and vision and that collaboration would not serve the vision well. Add to this the spectacular success of Disney in Tokyo and all of his personal input verified his approach. Unfortunately, it takes three points to make a pattern and he had only 2. Consultation was the only way to avoid the nightmares encountered in France. The culture was so different from America or Japan that there was little frame of reference in common.
Believing all Europeans enjoyed the same sausage or Europeans vacationed in the same way that Americans did was easily corrected by cultural awareness that would not have cost much but they were too ethnocentric to even know the questions to ask. I imagine they had no ears for those who tried to tell them. Sausage might just be sausage to Eisner who probably did not eat it but to Europeans, it is as distinct as different wines. Attempting to impose American values, such as nondrinking on the French or appearance rules would have been easily understood as a mistake if they had even asked.
I also know from a course in Children’s literature that the Disney version of fairytales like Cinderella were almost unrecognizable to those who had grown up on the European (original) versions of the stories. Thus, Disney did not even have the transfer of cultural understanding in the tales that they assumed that they had. 4. How do you assess the cross-cultural marketing skills of Disney? I imagine that they are significantly better now but they were dismally unequal to the task at the time. They simply did not do their homework.
In a nation of couturier fashion and elegance, to emphasize size and glamour was ‘tres gauche”. Bigger and better is a selling feature of the American psyche not of the French. They eat one croissant not a dozen donuts. They buy one designer handbag rather than 6 knock offs. The assumption of a common bond over fairytales was erroneous. The belief that the society functioned like the American society was just wrong because the French are highly unionized, and quite highly socialized in a political sense. Liberty and independence are even more ingrained among the French than the Americans.
They believe they invented the concepts and the Americans high jacked them for their constitution. 5. Why did success in Tokyo predispose Disney management to be too optimistic in their expectations of success in France? Discuss In Japan Disney found an insatiable curiosity about American ways and American forms of play because of the rebuilding of Japan by the Americans who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima- their conquerors. Japan had been broken by and then rebuilt upon an American capitalistic model. (Please do not read criticism into this.
I am not sure Truman had any choice given the personality and military spirit of Japan). The Japanese had been inundated with American cultural icons since world war two and Disney cartoons were a staple in Japanese experience. The success of Disney was more the success of the Japanese people at adapting to a new world after defeat than a triumph of marketing and cultural understanding. Unfortunately, the success without much cooperation, deeper understanding or adaptation led to the false belief in the Disney magic touch world wide.