Tag Archives: cultural awareness

Favourite International Marketing Mistakes

Getting your name, brand, image, colour, strapline and even product right when you go abroad can be a real challenge even to big, established corporations.  It’s often about a lot more than just correct translation – it’s about cultural awareness, doing your research and making sure that you understand what your research results mean (that you are interpreting them correctly).

As a fun Friday activity, here are a few of my favourite examples.  See if you can spot what happened in each case:

1) The company Vicks had to change its name in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

2) Kelloggs breakfast cereals did not take off as expected in India, even when they introduced mango and rosewater-flavoured cereal.

Geneva Car Show - car manufacturers are particularly vulnerable to misinterpretation with their fanciful names

3) Mitsubishi Pajero changed its name to Montero in Latin America and Spain, and to Shogun in the UK.  Ford Pinto also had to change its name in Brazil after disappointing sales.

4) The first Barbie doll in Japan attracted comment but very few sales.

5) Shito Sweetmix will never do well in the UK/US market.

6) Hallmark cards had to admit failure in France.

7) A small but exclusive company specialising in personalised, hand-made gifts and cards could not understand why it was failing to capture the imagination of the Eastern European market.

8) French dairy group organised focus groups and market research in Japan and was pretty sure that yoghurt was the next big thing to an increasingly Westernised palate there.  But their product bombed when it was launched.

9) Mercedes Benz E-Class Sedans were selling only 10% of their Indian-based manufacturing output to Indians.

10) OK, this is a well-known one, but it always makes me laugh….   ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ did not do wonders for sales of the Swedish vacuum-cleaner in the US.

Answers coming on Monday!

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Cultural awareness starts with yourself

The Unmixed View of the World

Many articles or even workshops on cultural etiquette and ‘how to do business in X country’ become a list of dos and don’ts, a little tickbox exercise of everything that is different or ‘quaint’ about the other culture.  I suppose there are good reasons for that: time constraints, word limits, or the unwillingness to dig deep within yourself.

However, I do profoundly believe that the first step in understanding other cultures is to become aware of  your own values, assumptions and -dare we say it? – foibles.  Only when you understand what you are made of, can you begin to grasp and appreciate what others are made of. 

Some of these assumptions are so deeply ingrained that we are unable to distance ourselves from it or even to see it.  So, in my workshops or coaching sessions, I will often throw in some provocative statements or questions to reveal some of these cultural blind spots. 

For instance, when I have a predominantly British audience in the room, I will ask them what they think that foreigners find most puzzling or annoying about living in the UK.  Typical answers include the weather or poor customer service, but in fact these are the things that annoy British people most.

So what is the answer?  Simple:  unmixed taps and carpet in the bathrooms.

When I finally give the answer, expat audiences laugh or give a groan of recognition, while the British usually are completely mystified.  Why would anyone pick up on these trivial points?  Surely carpet is softer and warmer on your feet when you come out of the bath?  And just what is wrong with unmixed taps anyway?  (If you are still baffled, pick the nearest Continental European and ask him or her about this.)

Yes, these might be innocuous examples of mild irritation, but do not underestimate their effect on a long-term relationoship.  What else might be annoying our foreign colleagues, employees, partners?  What else makes perfect sense to us but  could be causing them embarassment, unease, anxiety?  Shed some light on your blind spots and, who knows, you might even change your taps!

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Being made redundant

When I introduce myself as a ‘culture broker’ at networking meetings, I sometimes get the reaction: ‘ Well, we won’t be needing the likes of you for much longer!  Everyone is travelling abroad so much now that we all get to understand other cultures better.  And besides, everyone speaks English nowadays.’  And then they point to Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Google as global brands which demonstrate how the world has become a much smaller, more familiar, more inclusive place.

Ah, yes, this would be the global understanding and togetherness that has seen the rise of far-right parties in countries previously praised for their egalitarianism and liberalism, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, would it?  Or the openness to other cultures that has led to the strongly incentivised (dare I say ‘forced’) repatriation of Romas from France (and not just France)?  Or the corporate domination of the world by American companies, while the American people have become figures of ridicule or symbols of oppression in many parts of the world? 

So we retreat into our gated communities and tut-tut about the unpleasantness of other countries.  We stick to what we know until we need a bit of sunshine on our holiday.

In the long run, I would certainly like nothing more than for my job to become redundant.  I would like to further cultural awareness and understanding so successfully that I could then retire gracefully.  Here’s to hoping… but, in the meantime, here’s to acting and working and talking about it!

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