When Cross Cultural Marketing Goes Wrong

In class we are often taught about the right way to approach cross cultural marketing across the globe throughout various markets, however there are many well known instances where cross cultural marketing has gone horribly wrong. One of the common things that can happen is a simple translation error when changing a slogan from one language into another. A good example of this is KFC when they first moved into mainland China. The first translation of the slogan “Finger-Lickin' Good” was translated into “Eat Your Fingers Off”. This was quickly corrected and KFC is now seeing great success in China.

Translation errors are not limited to US companies going global, there are also examples of other companies translating their slogans into english for the US market. A Swedish vacuum company wanted to advertise the power of their new vacuum and the english slogan came out as “Nothing sucks like Electrolux”. Although this sounds funny, it did not end up working out well for the company.

A screen shot from the TV ad

There are many other examples of simple translation errors across cross-cultural markets with different languages. The most well known errors have come from US companies marketing their products globally. However there are many smaller errors that can be found on imported products where they are translating into the English language. There is even a blog devoted to the errors that occur when translating into the english language. The page is called “engrish” and currently their most popular post involves a boba tea advertisement.

The most popular post on engrish

Another common error that can occur in cross cultural marketing is the assumption that different countries have been raised with the same folklore as other countries. Proctor and Gamble found this out the hard way when they attempted to market diapers to the Japanese market using imagery from western folklore of a stork delivering the baby. Sales in Japan began to slow down and management soon discovered the error in the marketing. In Japan, babies are delivered via a large peach floating down the river. The stork delivery is completely foreign to the Japanese market.

Pampers' misguided imagery in Japan

The final cross cultural marketing error comes when you get your own target market culture completely wrong and end up offending other cultures. Cadillac found this out when they advertised their new ELR to Americans and explained what it was like to be a hard working American while inadvertently criticizing other global culture's work schedules. The problem was that the ad did not resonate with everyone and in fact made some people very upset. Ford used this as an opportunity to make their own ad to market to a different segment within the American market. Many Americans found both advertisements to be off putting however foreigners were most offended by the Cadillac advertisement. The takeaway here is that it is not a good idea to criticize other cultures in your ad campaign. With the internet, it is easily shared globally and you may ultimately receive some bad feedback.

Cadillac Offensive Ad and Ford's Response