Kukuruza’s Buffalo blue Cheese popcorn. Max Brenner’s Chocolate Pizza. Rokurinsha’s tsukemen noodles. These are among the delicacies I have lined up for in Tokyo. And being Tokyo, it was not a short line.

In Manila, I can’t think of a time that I’ve lined up for more than five minutes for anything. Even when my favorite blog alerted me to Tim Ho Wan‘s dim sum coming to town, or when Onitsuka’s first shoe store opened in the Philippines. 

So why am I so willing to stand around waiting in Tokyo? Is it that my behavior has changed, or has the culture I now belong to led me to behave differently?

When it comes to customer insight and branding, we can identify different cult brands. It can easily be said that Japanese culture is a “line-up” culture. While this is by no means based on science, it’s clear that people here seem to believe that if it’s worth lining up for, it must be good.

We can also possibly attribute this to the cultural DNA of conformity in Japan. At job fairs, you can see job hunters adhering to a strict dress code of black suits, no tinge of color or personality from head to toe. Social acceptance is very important for keeping one’s tatemae (loosely translated as “image,” or “public face”). Tatemae often sets aside the honne (real self) for the sake of harmony.

In the Philippines, I can freely show my honne. Tatemae is not as culturally important. Maybe this is why I behave differently as a consumer in each place. Back home, the deviant is called brave, the iconoclast intelligent, and the non-conformist creative.

I am but a random sampling of a consumer who behaves differently depending on the context he or she is in. Still, one thing’s for sure: in marketing, the need for cultural insight is indefensible.

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