Thank you all for some interesting suggestions for the international marketing mistakes described in my previous blog. A combination of linguistic and cultural reasons, and quite a few of my international friends were spot on! I am not claiming that any of the reasons below were the SOLE reason for things not going according to plan, of course. Launching a product internationally is always going to a complex operation with many potential failure points. But here is my interpretation of events:
1) ‘V’ is pronounced ‘f’ in German, and ‘Fick-en’ is a rude word in that language. LESSON: Don’t neglect pronounciation of words!
2) Indians don’t really like cereal with milk for breakfast. Kelloggs tinkered with the packaging and flavour, but neglected that fundamental cultural difference. LESSON: Don’t make assumptions that there is a gap in the market – the gap may be there for a reason!
3) Pajero in Spanish means ‘w**ker’ and ‘Pinto’ is Brazilian slang for suggesting a man is less than well-endowed. LESSON: Make sure you know what your fanciful name means in the markets you are targeting.
4) It was thought that Barbie’s breasts were too big for the Japanese market. LESSON: Sometimes people want the exotic, but not too exotic.
5) ‘Shito’ – well, we all know what that sounds like in English, regardless of how long or short the first vowel may be intended to be.
6) Hallmark was considered too syrupy by French consumers, who also prefer writing their own messages in cards. LESSON: Understand your target market.
7) In countries where handmade gifts have been the norm for decades (because there was nothing else to buy), there is a hunger for slick mass-produced goods. LESSON: Do not patronise your new market.
8) Dairy products never do well in Japan, partly for cultural and partly for physiological reasons (high incidence of lactose intolerance). The focus groups should have uncovered that, but researchers had not realised that the surveyed Japanese consumers would consider it rude to make critical comments about the product and therefore were reluctant to admit that they would not buy it. LESSON: Make sure you are asking the right questions.
9) The Indians felt insulted that Mercedes was producing an older model of their car for the Indian market. LESSON: Do not make people feel you have made the buying decision for them. Do not make assumptions about what people are prepared to spend.
10) ‘Sucks’ is a derogative term in the US and could roughly translate as ‘low-quality’ or even ‘terrible’. LESSON: Get your translations and idioms right.
Are there any other explanations you can think of? What about other fun examples of messages going astray when they cross borders?