Disastrous International Marketing Failures And How To Avoid Them
There are many mistakes that have been made in the past when companies try to translate their names or slogans into a different language. Products were not bought due to what the slogans or names meant in other countries. Here are a few hilarious cases;
1. The Coca-Cola Case:
Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela”, meaning “Bite the Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Stuffed with Wax”, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokoukole”, translating into “Happiness in the Mouth”.
2. The General Motors Case:
General Motors’s Chevrolet Nova car in Spanish in Central and South America: “No va”, “It Doesn’t Go”;
General Motors Corp. will rename its Buick LaCrosse in Canada because the name for the car is slang for masturbation in Quebec, embarrassed officials with the U.S. automaker said on Thursday. GM officials, who declined to be named, said it had been unaware that LaCrosse was a term for self-gratification among teenagers in French-speaking Quebec.
3. The Colgate Case:
Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue: name of notorious porno magazine.
4. The Orange Case:
During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright…the future’s Orange.” That campaign is an advertising legend. However, in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist… didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population.
5. The General Electric Company Case:
In 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant. A brand name was desired that evoked technology and innovation. The winning proposal was GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. A not very innovative name and not suggestive of technology and a total disaster for European branding. GPT is pronounced in French as Jâ ai pa ta or I’ve farted!
6. The Waterpik Case:
Waterpik uses another name in Denmark. “Pik” is the common Danish word for male genitals. Most Danes can easily translate “water” to the Danish word “vand”. And “vandpik” is a term for the morning erection.
7. Binney & Smith Crayola Case:
Crayola has changed colour names over time due to the civil rights movement and other social pressures. In 1962, Binney & Smith replaced flesh with peach, in recognition of the wide variety of skin tones. More recently, in 1999, they changed Indian red to chestnut. The color was not named after Native Americans, it was actually named for a special pigment that came from India. But school children often assumed the incorrect origin of the name.
8. The Gerber Case:
Gerber, the name of the famous baby food maker, is also the French word for vomiting. It becomes a bit limiting when you go global… Gerber is therefore not in France, and although Gerber has a French Canadian web page, it says “Les aliments pour ba bas Gerber ne sont disponibles pour l’instant qu’aux a tats-Unis” (French for: The baby food is not here, try the U.S.)
9. The Matsushita Case:
Matsushita Electric is promoting a new Japanese PC targeted at the Internet. Panasonic has developed a complete Japanese Web browser, and to make the system “user-friendly”, licensed the cartoon character “Woody Woodpecker” as the “Internet guide.” Panasonic eventually planned on a world version of the product.
A huge marketing campaign was to have introduced the product in Japan last week. The day before the ads were to be released, Panasonic suddenly pulled back and delayed the product launch indefinitely.
The reason: the ads featured the slogan “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” An American staff member at the internal product launch explained to the stunned and embarrassed Japanese that “touch woody” and “pecker” had sexual connotation in American slang. It was too late to change the Woody name, but Panasonic executives did manage to change Touch Woody to Woody Touch Screen in the announcement materials.
10. The Ford- Pinto, Ford- Corcel Case:
Ford Pinto didn’t ever sell in Brazil, except maybe as a low-volume import. The Ford Corcel was a totally unrelated product, the result of a joint project by the Brazilian subsidiary of Willys Overland and French automaker Renault. When Ford acquired Willys’s Brazilian operation, they inherited the almost-finished project and decided to launch it under their own brand. They may have considered to use the “Pinto” brand on it, but saner heads prevailed and decided on the “Corcel” name in order to keep to the “horse” theme Ford seemed to like at the time. The “Pinto” name was never used in Brazil.
“Corcel” was a huge success, and remained in production for more than a decade, spawning a station wagon version called “Belina”, a second-generation “Corcel II”, a luxury version called “Del Rey” and a light pick-up version called “Pampa”. In the early eighties, almost the entire production of Ford Brazil’s automobile division was comprised of Corcel-related vehicles.
The reason for such strategy: Pinto is Brazilian slang for “male genitals”.
Ford’s Fiera doesn’t do well with Spanish-speaking Latin-Americans, since “fiera” means “ugly old woman”.
11. The Irish Mist Liqueur Case
D. Fleming reported that Irish Mist didn’t do well in Germany either. Other sources claimed it was marketed with the semi-Germanized Irischer Mist, which would translate back to English as Irish dung.
12. The Traficante Mineral Water Case:
Traficante is an Italian brand of mineral water. In Spanish, it means drug dealer.
13. The Volkswagen Jetta Case:
Volkswagen named the sedan version of Golf the Jetta. However, the letter “J” doesn’t exist in the Italian alphabet, so Jetta is pronounced “Ietta”, which means Misfortune…
14. The Hong Kong Tourist Board Case:
In April, 2003 the Hong Kong Tourist Board tried to either pull their ads or have their slogan changed. But it was too late to change the campaign that was on billboards throughout Hong Kong and in British versions of Cosmopolitan and Conde Nast Traveller.
The slogan that was running “Hong Kong: It will take your breath away.” unfortunately coincided with the SARS epidemic that resulted in numerous deaths. Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of SARS.
15. The Peanut Chocolate Bars Case:
The peanut-packed chocolate bar that lost out in the Japanese market, because many Asians believe peanuts and chocolate cause nosebleeds. They believe that both peanuts and chocolate (actually caffeine) cause allergic reactions.
16. The Nike Air Case:
Nike offended Muslims in June, 1997 when the “flaming air” logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked too similar to the Arabic form of God’s name, “Allah”. Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of sneakers from the market.
Mistakes Made and How to Avoid Them
1. Assuming that all cultures around the world are the same
as seen in the “Orange Case”, every culture across the world is different. So if something works in one country, attempting to mirror it and expecting it to work in another country will certainly lead to failure.
Although understanding your audience is related to target market research, it’s important to study cultural attitudes and implement those in your copy, landing pages, and targeted Web sites.
2. Not thinking locally
Colours, shapes, slogans and even catch phrases and humour all differ locally. Not realising this will lead to disaster.
For instance, the Japanese consider the colour white to be associated with death. Therefore a website that blatantly displays a lot of white will put off Japanese visitors and may even offend them. Further much regard should be paid to the religions in specific countries. Jokes that are directed at Muslims, Buddhists or Jews are better kept to yourself than being put up on an international platform since they can easily offend people.
Although local research is probably the most difficult, it’s also really interesting and fun to do. There’s a lot of information on the Internet about doing business in different cultures.
Try to find a local in your target market. You might be surprised to find out how willing most people are to talk about their culture and what they look for when using search engines. If you find a local, don’t forget to send them a thank you gift expressing your appreciation.
3. Using Machine Translators Or Non-skilled Translators
A simple example of using Google translate to translate s phrase to another language and translating it back will give you a hilarious result.
Machine translators CAN NOT be trusted. It is advised to combine a local search marketing expert to the translator and have them proof read each other’s work. The search marketer should know the client’s products inside and out. They don’t have time to translate, but can at least review and offer feedback to the translator. Your local search marketer can also provide localized keyword research on terms that the translation agency might never think of.
As for the translators, don’t expect them to know your product and service. Chances are they won’t and they’ll make some big translation failures during the first draft of their work.
To avoid translation and localization errors (if you’re marketing to several global markets), consider appointing a person as the central point of contact for all global search programs. This person would effectively manage all aspects from search partners, translators, and local experts, play a key role in timing campaign launches, and communicate the overall objectives of your search engine programs.
4. Not Researching the Market Properly
In the 1960s the General Mills turned to Japan to market cakes from the Betty Crocker brands, but there was one problem, there were no ovens in the homes. General Mills then started to look for a way for the Japanese housewives to make the cakes using the rice cooker, which is in every Japanese household. They were successful in the cake trials, and the product was launched with the name Cakeron. The new product was not getting repeat sales for two reasons: rice is eaten in Japan with every meal, and rice is also considered sacred. Soon after its launch, General Mills withdrew Cakeron from Japan.
Proper Market research would have avoided such a failure. Such research need not be complicated but a simple interviewing of locals would suffice. The same applies to the international market where bad research can put off users as soon as they see your products don’t match their culture, religion or language. All the above problems can be a voided by a simple market research.