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Since I’ve been talking about mistake made in cross-cultural advertising, in this post, I will provide few examples of errors made by multinational corporations when advertising their brand abroad. Should be pretty interesting to read.

– When Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its store in China, they’re famous slogan of “finger lickin’ good” was translated into “eat your fingers off”

– In Italy, the name “Schweppes Tonic Water” was translated into “Schweppes Toilet Water”

– People in China took Pepsi’s slogan “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” more literally than they intended, which translated into “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”

– When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in Spain, “nova” apparently meant “it won’t go” which resulted in the low sales outcome

– Ford made a similar mistake when they launched Pinto in Brazil. “Pinto” is Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals”

– In an advertisement for a pen by Parker Pen a pen, the tagline was supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass, so instead the ads said “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

– When Braniff translated a slogan touting its upholstery, “Fly in Leather,” it came out in Spanish as “Fly Naked”

– Coors put its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer From Diarrhea”

– An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit Instead of “I Saw the Pope” (el Papa), the shirts read “I Saw the Potato” (la papa)

These examples were taken from ‘Some Humorous Cross-Cultural Advertising Gaffes‘. If you want to see more, just click this link and it will bring you directly to the website.

Marieke de Mooij, 2004, Consumer Behaviour and Culture: Consequences for Global Marketing and Advertising, Illustrated, Sage Publication, United States of America

Anholt, S 2000, Another One Bites The Grass: Making Sense of International Advertising, Ad Week Book, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., United States of America

Usunier, J.C and Lee, J.A 2005, Marketing Across Cultures, 4th edn, Prentice Hall Financial Times, Gosport

When launching an international advertising campaign, the most obvious difference between cultures is their languages. This is probably why language is the first thing advertisers worry about when asked to produce an international advertising campaign. Although it’s should not be the first concern, it still is a problem worth looking into. There’s no doubt that it’s very difficult to be responsible for the communication aspect of a campaign when you personally don’t speak the language. You may think the tagline says one thing but you would never know for sure if it really says what it suppose to and one small mistake can easily jeopardise the quality of the whole campaign.

There are two common mistakes advertisers tend to make when it comes to the aspect of language in an international advertising campaign.

  1. A false assumption of how globalisation has facilitated the spread of English to the rest of the world and therefore English can be used for any international campaign. Indeed English has become the number one spoken language in the world but to many it’s still their second or even third language and having to read an advertisement in foreign language is something unnatural. As stated by an international advertising consultant, Simon Anholt (2000, p. 49), why should the consumer make an effort to understand us when in fact we are the one who should be making an effort to be understood by them. It’s about respecting consumers and they’re culture. Unless of course the brand is unique to one country, for example the brand is uniquely Australian and its selling point is its Australian-ness then the use of English might push its attractiveness further. However it’s also worth remembering that due to the wide-spread of English as an international language in current global society, the use of English in an advertisement may simply implies that it’s an international brand instead of American or British brand.
  2. Many advertisers believe that the key ingredient of a successful international advertising campaign is simply to take a successful Western (in most cases American) ad campaign and directly translate it to other languages. There are two main problems with this approach. The first problem is a difficulty in finding appropriate words linguistically and conceptually. Language is a demonstration of culture and as Marieke de Mooij stated, people “develop a culture specific communication style” (2004, p. 188). In other words, people from different culture do not only communicate differently but they also perceive things differently and therefore experience things differently (Usunier & Lee 2005, p. 392). For example in Japanese there are no words equivalent to the word ‘YOU’ and ‘I’ in English. The use of these two words in Japanese society changes depending on speaker’s gender, age, social status, social situation they are in, as well as the person he/she is talking to and how the listener is related to the speaker. This is a direct result of social system unique only to Japan where the use of language would have to change depending on who you are communicating with. The second problem is not exactly the issue of language but it sure is worth mentioning; when an advertisement originally made for Australian audience gets translated into different language, let’s just say Japanese for now, it would still feels wrong. This is simply because the audiences are not stupid and they would realize something is wrong if the ad was not originally meant for them to see.

So what can be done to improve communication in international advertising? According to Jean-Claude Usunier and Julie Anne Lee (2005, p 392), three things can be done to improve this issue; 1) by preserving culturally unique concepts in the native language form to indicate their uniqueness, 2) by finding out the exact meaning of the words or expressions in cultural context and 3) by identifying other possible connotation of words being used.


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