International Marketing Mistakes – the Answers

Do your international marketing attempts 'suck'?

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?



Filed under Business cultur, Globalization

6 responses to “International Marketing Mistakes – the Answers

  1. Roxana Sera

    Sanda, asa repede pentru colectia ta: Kia Besta – o marca de van. Se pare ca marca a avut in minte “Best A”, top of the top. Numai ca in portugheza “besta” inseamna idiot, tampit… 🙂 Ah, si faimosul pinto… e si slang pentru… the thing… nu neaparat mic! cel putin in Brazilia. Au schimbat numele modelului dupa aceea in Corcel, care inseamna cal… 🙂

  2. Sanda, great examples ! You can also look at brands with global concepts that are successful despite different local tastes, habits or cultural norms. If the product is new and offers something that does not exist , asking local consumers are usually not good as early adopters are the minority in a population: Apple’s products are a very good examples, Steve Jobs is setting the market rules! Look at the success of Starbucks in Paris : 50 stores in the French capital ! Who would have thought that an American coffee company could compete with the traditional Parisian cafes and their lovely terraces and not-so- lovely waiters? Sanda, If you are interested in global marketing read the story I have just posted on my blog and let me know what you think. Thanks

    • Starbucks is a good example, actually – same thing happened in Greece. another country with a strong coffee culture. When the first store opened in Athens, people went there in droves, then stayed away in droves (since it did not seem to offer anything different from the other numerous cafes) but then the numbers stabilised. The people who go there are either expats or Greeks who have lived abroad or who want to have the American experience. Still, it’s probably not doing quite as well in that country as it is in other places, and it’s only thanks to deep pockets that it has continued opening new stores.

  3. Rebecca

    This posting reminds me of when I was teaching English in Japan and one of my American colleagues was named Jordan – which is pronounced with a Japanese accent as Jo (long o) dahn – which also means “joke” in Japanese. Unfortunate for him…

    • Thank you – lovely example! I too have the misfortune (or good fortune?) to be thought of as ‘Santa Claus’ in Japan and Greece, where there are some difficulties in hearing the difference between ‘nd’ and ‘nt’.

      • Hi Rebecca,
        I lived in Japan too for almost 10 years (in three periods). Do you remember the biscuits stuffed with chocolate called “colon” ? probably a joke a Gaijin made in the marketing department ! 🙂

        Sanda: I think most Greek people cannot afford to pay $3 for a coffee ? Another reason might be smoking : before it was forbidden to smoke in public places in Paris, Starbucks was not so popular. Now that it is strictly forbidden to smoke in cafes, Starbucks have its fans even among smokers as they have seats outside.

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