Culture Important in Advertising
The increase in global trade means that international companies cannot afford to make costly advertising mistakes if they want to be competitive.
Understanding the language and culture of target markets in foreign countries is one of the keys to successful international marketing. Too many companies, however, have jumped into foreign markets with embarrassing results.
Translation mistakes are at the heart of many blunders (stupid or careless mistake) in international advertising.
General Motors, the
Marketing blunders have also been made by food and beverage companies. One American food company’s friendly “Jolly Green Giant” (for advertising vegetables) became something quite different when it was translated into Arabic as “Intimidating Green Ogre”.
When translated into German, Pepsi’s popular slogan, “Come Alive with Pepsi” came out implying “Come Alive from the Grave”. No wonder customers in
Airline companies have also experienced problems of poor translation. A word-by-word translation ruined a whole advertising campaign for Braniff Airlines. Hoping to promote its plush leather seats, Braniffs ad urged passengers to “fly on leather.” However, when the slogan was translated into Spanish, it told customers to “fly naked.” Another airline company, Eastern Airlines, made a similar mistake when it translated its motto, “We earn our wings daily” into Spanish. The poor translation suggested that its passengers often ended up dead.
Even a company with an excellent international track record like Kentucky Fried Chicken is not immune to the perils of faulty translation. A lot of sales were lost when the catch phrase “finger licking good” became “eat your fingers off” in the Chinese translation.
A manufacturer of one laundry detergent made an expensive mistake in a promotional campaign in the Middle East. The advertisements showed a picture of a pile of dirty clothes on the left, a box of the company’s detergent in the middle, and clean clothes on the right. Unfortunately, the message was incorrectly interpreted because most people in the Middle East read from right to left. It seemed to them that the detergent turned clean clothes into dirty ones.
Avoid cultural oversights
Successful international marketing doesn’t stop with good translations—other aspects of culture must be researched and understood if marketers are to avoid blunders. When marketers do not understand and appreciate the values, tastes, geography, climate, superstitions, level of literacy, religion, or economic development of a culture, they fail to capture their target market.
For example, when a popular American designer tried to introduce a new perfume into the Latin American market but the product aroused little interest. The main reason was that the camellia used in it was traditionally used for funerals in many South American countries.
Procter and Gamble has been successful in marketing its products internationally for many years. Today, overseas markets account for over one third of its sales. However, the company’s success in this area didn’t happen overnight. Procter and Gamble initially experienced huge losses because marketing managers did not recognize important cultural differences. For instance, when P&G first entered the Japanese market with its popular Cheer laundry detergent, most Japanese housewives weren’t interested. The promotional campaign that emphasized Cheer as an effective “all temperature” detergent was lost on the Japanese who usually wash clothes in cold water. Although the ad had been quite successful in the
The use of numbers can also be a source of problems for international marketers. Since every culture has its own set of lucky and unlucky numbers, companies need to do their homework if they want to avoid marketing blunders. A
Even illustrations need to be carefully examined. A picture that is culturally offensive can ruin an advertisement even if the written message is properly translated. McDonnell Douglas Corporation made an unfortunate error in an aircraft brochure for potential customers in
Having awakened to the special nature of foreign advertising, companies are becoming much more conscientious in securing accurate translations and more sensitive to the cultural distinctions.
The best way to guard against errors is to hire trained professional translators who thoroughly understand the target language and its idiomatic usage, or to use a technique called “back translation” to reduce the possibility of advertising blunders.
The process of “back translation” requires one person to translate the message into the target language and another person to translate the new version back into the original language. Effective translators aim to capture the overall message of an advertisement because a word-for-word duplication of the original rarely conveys the intended meaning and often causes misunderstandings.
In designing advertisements to be used in other countries, marketers are recognizing the need to keep messages as short and simple as possible and to avoid idioms, jargon, and slang that are difficult to translate. Similarly, they avoid jokes, since what is considered funny in one part of the world may not be so humorous in another.
Source: Du Xinyu (Ed.). 2008. Business English. Shandong University.