Sunday, December 15, 2013

Marketing Blunders in the International Marketplace and How to Avoid Them

clip_image003This article was written by John Rau, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

If in the development of your business marketing plan you have the desire and/or plans to move into the international marketplace, then there is a totally different set of marketing issues that you need to be aware of in your market research efforts. In this situation, your market research efforts will still include the need to address who your target audience is, what the demand is for your product(s), who is your competition (now both U.S. and non-U.S), how their products compare with yours in terms of price, quality and other features, how do you get your product(s) into this new marketplace and, more specifically, how do you “represent yourself” in the context of the different cultures that you will now encounter. Global marketing has its own set of issues that you will need to address.

You will need to be sensitive to not only cultural and emotional values when marketing your products but also language differences. The web contains an extensive collection of international marketing blunders to illustrate this point. Amusing examples from numerous web sites include the following:

  • When Mitsubishi launched its Pajero 4WD product in Spain, they forgot to take into consideration that the word “Pajero” means “jerk” in Spanish.
  • KFC’s slogan “finger-lickin good” was translated in Chinese to mean “eat your fingers off”.
  • GEC and Plesssey had a joint company in France called GPT. When GPT is pronounced in French, it sounds as “Jay-Pay-Tay” which is similar to J’ai pete, which means “I have farted”.
  • Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
  • When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as they did in the U.S., with the beautiful Caucasian baby picture on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since most people can’t read.
  • Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” when translated into Chinese came out as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.
  • Coors translated its catchy slogan “Turn it Loose” into Spanish. It read as “Suffer from Diarrhea”.
  • Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick” curling iron in Germany. “Mist” is German slang for manure.
  • Expanding to Mexico, the Dairy Association’s hugely successful “Got Milk?” was translated into Spanish with the result being “Are you lactating?”
  • When Schwepps was expanding into the Italian market, “Tonic Water” got translated into “Water from the toilet”.
  • Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.
  • When Puffs tissue started marketing their tissues in Germany, it didn’t do so well. The reason being that “Puff” means “brothel” in Germany.
  • When Hunt-Wesson introduced their Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos, they forgot to note one thing, “Gros Jos” is slang for “big breasts”.
  • And lastly, the Japanese company Matsushita Electric (Panasonic) was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created a new web browser and had received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide. The day before the huge marketing campaign they realized their pending advertisement error, namely, the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody—The Internet Pecker”.

As pointed out by Karl Livingston in his article “Massive Marketing Blunders: What Were They Thinking?” (see, examples such as cited above show that promotional messages in one country might deliver one message whereas in another country the same message can be conceived as something else. He says that some of the things that need to be taken into consideration when launching a new product or creating a marketing campaign in a foreign country, as illustrated in the above examples, are: language, culture, emotional value and slang languages among many other things.

In his article entitled “Marketing Blunders & Global Culture”, Thomas Metcalf of Demand Media (see suggests what to do to minimize the chance of making global blunders. He says to plan ahead. “Select the countries where you intend to do business, and learn all you can about them. Find a native speaker who can help you with translations and guide you through cultural innuendo. You must familiarize yourself with language, graphics, color and symbolism. As you learn about the culture, examine the attitudes about aging, gender roles and tradition. Explore the economic conditions—not just the current state of affairs, but also how the countries have reacted to economic turmoil in the past. Make sure your name and brands are acceptable overseas. What is acceptable in one country may be insulting in another, and there may be regional differences within countries. With best efforts on your part, you should be able to shrink the barriers and enjoy good business relations.”