TEN CROSS-CULTURAL BLUNDERS TO REMEMBER
The challenges of global marketing, product-placement and advertising are many. Here in the United States, despite the availability of cross-cultural consultants, many companies fail to take advantage of these resources before launching a product. Significant blunders are still being made by some very “significant” companies. Without mentioning names, here are ten to remember.
1. A US telephone company tried to market its products and services to Latinos by showing a commercial in which a Latino wife tells her husband to call a friend to inform them that they would be late for dinner. The commercial bombed since Latino women do not generally tell their husbands what to do in the manner depicted, and further, the “elastic” approach most Latinos have to time would not require a call about lateness.
2. American Motors tried to market its car, the “Matador,” in Puerto Rico based on an image of strength and courage, however, in Puerto Rico the word, literally translated, means “killer.” The inappropriate name is linked to the car’s lack of popularity because of the many hazardous roads in the country and the correlation with death made by consumers.
3. A cologne for men pictured a pastoral scene with a man and his dog. It failed in Islamic countries since dogs are considered unclean and should never have been used in conjunction with an image-enhancing product meant to be applied to a man’s skin.
4. Marketing executives were disappointed to learn that the brand name of the cooking oil they were promoting in a Latin American country translated into Spanish as “Jackass Oil.”
5. One of the largest multinational companies in the world launched a television commercial in Japan that was popular in Europe. The ad showed a woman bathing, her husband entering the bathroom and touching her. The Japanese considered this ad an invasion of privacy, inappropriate behavior, and in very poor taste.
6. An American executive refused an offer of a cup of coffee from a Saudi businessman. Such a rejection is considered very rude and the business negotiations were terminated.
7. One company printed the “OK” finger sign on each page of its catalogue. In many parts of Latin America that is considered an obscene gesture. The entire catalog had to be re-printed.
8. Marketing executives approved a global promotional campaign that compared an American luxury Hotel in New York to the Taj Mahal in India, a magnificent structure to be sure, but nevertheless, a tomb (mausoleum). The comparison was inappropriate in many parts of the world.
9. A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, pronunciation of the word “four” in Japanese sounds like the word “death.” There is great superstition associated with the number four and items packaged in fours are unpopular.
10. A U.S. phone company tried to promote its telephone and services to Saudi’s. Its ad portrayed an executive talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk, showing the soles of his shoes– something an Arab would never do as the soles of the feet are considered unclean.
All of the above would have been “quick fixes” for a cross-cultural consultant who would have evaluated everything from attitude, to mannerisms, non-verbal communication, color, word-usage, and religious connotations. In an era where the majority of products can and will be marketed globally, a marketing campaign needs to have “legs” that will take it longer distances than around the block.