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Global Brands - November 2016

How global brands are expanding into this market—and what they’ve learned from the experience

by Jane Di Leo

The Latin American market is increasingly of interest to companies looking to expand their attraction and entertainment concepts internationally. Not only is the population in this region focused on the core values that help drive visitation—spending time with family, enjoying experiences, finding ways to entertain children of all ages—but one that is also becoming increasingly interested in and loyal to brands that come in from global markets.

Take Six Flags Entertainment Corporation and Cirque du Soleil, as two examples. Both companies have major operations in the United States and Canada—and both saw the opportunity to break into the Latin American market via Mexico, which has the second largest GDP behind Brazil and is geographically one of the closest Spanish-speaking countries to each of the companies’ headquarters (Cirque du Soleil is based in Canada, and Six Flags is based in the United States). Six Flags took a bet on the market 16 years ago, and continues to invest in its presence in Mexico. Cirque du Soleil, on the other hand, is a relatively new player, having opened its first permanent show in Mexico a few years ago and is now planning its next locale in the region.

Funworld spoke with each of the brands to gather their insights for companies considering expanding into the region. One common factor emerged: Both Six Flags and Cirque du Soleil noted that for a brand to enter the Latin American market—or any market outside of its home country—it is paramount to not only have an excellent understanding of the local culture, but to engage with a team on the ground that helps navigate the local waters and ensure your brand is translated in a relevant way to visitors. Here’s a deeper look at the companies’ other lessons learned while expanding into Latin America.

After the success of Cirque du Soleil’s Riviera Maya location, the company plans to open its newest permanent location in Puerto Vallarta Mexico in 2018.

Two years ago, Cirque du Soleil decided to open its first permanent show, “JOYÁ,” in Mexico, locating it in Riviera Maya, one of the country’s most heavily frequented tourist spots. “After years of bringing touring shows to Mexico, we decided to open a permanent show there,” says Martin Boudreau, president of parks and immersive content for Cirque du Soleil. “Mexico is a great market with a large base of Cirque du Soleil fans. We have high brand awareness there, and we found an amazing partner that has helped us manage operations in the region.”

When the company began to look into opening in the region, Boudreau says the priority was finding the best location, the best project, and the best partner—one that would believe in the project as much as Cirque du Soleil did. After extensive research, the Cirque team began working with the Goddard Group, a firm dedicated to creating and designing attractions—from theme parks to resorts and casinos to retail concepts.

“We formed a joint venture with Cirque du Soleil with the goal of creating Cirque-themed parks and attractions for the global market,” says Gary Goddard, president and CEO of the Goddard Group. “Our teams work together to combine our creativity and expertise to each project we develop together. The fusion of our experience in attractions, theme parks, and other themed experiences, together with Cirque’s creative approach to entertainment, design, and experience creation, are leading us to an entirely new approach to attraction design and creation. Our goal is to transform the theme park experience for a new generation of audiences, much as Cirque once upon a time transformed the circus experience.”

When the Cirque team decided to expand its footprint in Mexico by opening an immersive theme park in Nuevo Vallarta, one of the core factors for the company was adapting to the local market and local culture, Boudreau says: “By doing our research and listening to our partner’s extensive expertise in the market, we were able to strategically choose locations for our shows and work with feeder markets that would help us gain traction into these new locations.”

One thing both Boudreau and Goddard point out is the critical importance for market research to ensure every detail of the project resonates with the local culture. “All of the research we do—whether on a small or large scale—is a working process and continually informs our efforts, not only in the design aspects but through every aspect of the project, from performance to marketing to staffing,” Goddard says.

Boudreau also notes the importance of the regional differences within a country: “The Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta are two very different markets within Mexico, so we needed to take this into consideration when developing our business and creative plans for each region. The Riviera Maya is a larger market that gets a lot of visitors flying in, both international and domestic. Puerto Vallarta, on the other hand, is not as big in terms of visitors flying in, but its proximity to large urban areas such as Guadalajara and Mexico City make it very interesting in a different way.”

On Brand, Yet Culturally Relevant

For a brand entering a new international market, especially one with a different culture and language base than your home market, it is crucial to understand how your brand—and its nuances—might resonate in the region. Whether it is the type of words or phrases used in marketing pieces or even the colors used in artwork, each detail needs to be considered.

“We want to ensure our approach is always adapted to market and product—but this does not mean changing the core Cirque brand,” Boudreau says. “Each show has its own identity, but the Cirque brand remains. That said, the key to our success—and, moreover, Mexico—is to embrace the country’s amazing and rich culture and history. We reflect this not only in the show but in the story and marketing materials, as well.”

Sometimes, Boudreau says, it is the subtle cultural touches that have the biggest impact. For example, while conducting research for its Riviera Maya show, the Cirque team discovered the butterflies they have in Canada migrate to Mexico in the winter, so they integrated the butterfly as a central element of the show. “This is just one example, but it shows how we strive to integrate cultural elements in ways that are not too obvious but as nice subtle touches,” Boudreau adds.

International Operation

When Cirque began its operations in Mexico, Boudreau says given the complexity of operating abroad, in Cirque’s experience, it is important to have the right partner that can help the company navigate on the ground. “When something happens—whether it is a mechanical problem, ticketing issue, or customer service problem, for example—it’s good to have the confidence that it will be handled promptly, seriously, and in the way that you would handle it if you were there.”

When asked what it takes for a company to think outside the box and continually adapt its brand to enter a new market, Goddard noted company culture was key. “Cirque and the Goddard Group both have a history of working internationally, and I think both companies share a corporate culture that is not only open to these other cultural influences, but welcome it.”

Today, the teams continue to research and learn, planning to bring the new Cirque experience, which is slotted to open in 2018, to Nuevo Vallarta.

“From our experience, the Mexican people are so welcoming and hospitable, and that definitely makes a huge difference for us when it comes to the guest experience,” Boudreau says. “Today, Mexico loves the Cirque du Soleil brand, which gave us a strong foundation for permanent shows.”

Since its inception, the Six Flags brand has been known for bringing the newest, jaw-dropping rides and attractions to visitors. As the business looked to expand, it began to consider Mexico. “We saw an opportunity in the culture, one that, we believed, was family focused and would want to enjoy a great day of fun and cherished memories with family and friends,” says John Odum, president of Six Flags International Development Company. Confident in its choice to expand to Latin America, the company opened its gates in Mexico City 16 years ago and hasn’t looked back. “Today, it is one of our fastest growing parks, and we will continue to invest there.”

Make the Brand Local

When the management team evaluates what attractions to put in parks—and what will resonate with the region the park is in—it found DC Comics- and Warner Bros.-themed attractions rate very highly, Odum says. Six Flags Mexico is home to a variety of branded attractions, including “Superman The Ultimate Escape,” one of the fastest roller coasters in the world; “Batman the Ride”; “The Dark Knight Coaster”; and the new “Justice League: Battle for Metropolis” interactive dark ride.

When asked how he and his team deal with the fact that many of the branded attraction names are in English, he notes although they cannot change the name, they describe the attractions in Spanish: “We follow the guidance of our local park team and the Mexico City-based advertising agency, to ensure the names of our attractions work appropriately in the market.”

To ensure any visitor who goes to a Six Flags park has a seamless, on-brand experience, Odum notes the Six Flags team is dedicated to hiring the right personnel and bringing the attributes that characterize the brand to life in a culturally appropriate way for the local market. “We are very fortunate to have such a talented and sophisticated team in Mexico,” Odum says. “We have a great partnership with them and communicate often to ensure our marketing and communications strategies are tailored properly for our guests in Mexico. Due to the differences in language and culture, we modify our brand objectives so they make sense and resonate with our target audiences. However, one thing we have learned over time is that the Six Flags brand stands for thrills in all countries and all languages. We just have to customize the message.”

When asked for an example of how the team might customize the message to the Mexican market, Odum cites the Six Flags brand campaign “Go Big,” which in the United States is meant to stand for experiencing ultimate thrills. In Mexico, however, “Go Big” becomes “A Lo Grande,” which is similar—though not a verbatim translation—yet expresses the same idea in a way that makes sense in Spanish and to people in the market. This last part is an important nuance any company expanding into Latin America needs to consider: Although the Spanish language is common throughout the region (except Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language), there are many nuances to the language that vary by country. Certain words or phrases that might be used in Mexico would not translate or be the same in the Dominican Republic, for example.

Stay Relevant

A challenge for any business or brand, no matter what region or sector its in, is continuing to stay relevant and innovate with the times. For Six Flags, this means continuing to do extensive research with guests to ensure they have a full understanding of what is important to them. “We try to stay close to our guests and monitor both their awareness and satisfaction of our products and services,” Odum says.

One of the results of this focus on visitors’ interests and satisfaction is the new Hurricane Harbor Oaxtepec water park, which will open in early 2017. The team saw an opportunity in the market for a water park with new water slides, rides, and attractions, as well as several new culinary and retail locations.

“Six Flags Mexico is very important to us as a company, and we will continue to make investments to offer world-class entertainment and innovative rides and attractions for guests of all ages,” Odum says. “We are very excited about the new initiative and hope it will be as successful as the main park has been, and are excited to bring the Six Flags experience to other parts of Mexico.” 

Tips for Expanding to Latin America

Cirque du Soleil’s Martin Boudreau shares his top five tips to remember when thinking about expanding to the region:

1.  Make sure the market is ready for your product.

2.  Take the time to do your research; study to understand the market well.

3.  Try to find the best partner/developer in this market.

4.  Listen to your partner, but do not hesitate to challenge them and draw them outside of their comfort zone.

5.  Be respectful of the local culture and expertise; try to take advantage of all the local specificities.