To err is human and to forgive is divine; but when it involves one’s culture, sentiments or religion, it gets difficult to ignore. Cultural blunders have been faced by world famous brands leaving them in a weirdly funny or trapped situation. If one does not give importance to the cultural influence, then having launched a successful and useful product does not entail it to get noticed by the people. When marketers make these blunders, the results are there to see in the growth of the company in that particular market.
The following list highlights that even companies, which are artificial persons, are not untouched by cultural barriers.
1. Pepsi plays a magical role in China
Pepsi – a famous carbonated soft drink was developed in 1893 and introduced as Brad’s Drink. Later it was renamed as PepsiCola in 1898, then to Pepsi in 1961. At different periods of time they had different slogans to reach out to their buyers.
Everybody would remember the famous slogan of Pepsi – “Pepsi brings you back to life”. In China when they launched their product, the Chinese were in for a shock and there were not any takers for Pepsi. The company never would have imagined that their phrase translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” This could surely be an additional help in the witchcraft world with people getting interested in connecting with their ancestors.
Coca Cola often referred as Coke too faced such a scenario. Originally Coca Cola was meant to be a patent medicine when it was invented in late 19th century. Coca Cola was marketed by a businessman Asa Griggs Candler as soft drink, which turned him into a billionaire.
When they entered the Chinese market, they used “Ke kou ke la” because when pronounced it sounded like Coca Cola. But little did they know, that it translated to “bite the wax tadpole” or something similar to “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect or language. Coke then withdrew all the printed signs and researched around 40,000 Chinese characters, and made a close rhyming word similar to coca cola – “ko kou ko le”, which could be translated to “happiness in the mouth”.
3. Eat your fingers off
Next to join them in these blunders is Kentucky Fried chicken, a fast food restaurant chain that specializes in fried chicken and headquartered in the United States. It has received flaks worldwide for its animal welfare record, environmental issues and promoting obesity. Even PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have been campaigning against KFC for their use of animals for eating and experimenting worldwide.
When Kentucky Fried chicken opened their first fast food restaurant in Beijing, China, in 1987, they were shocked to discover that their first slogan “finger licking good”, in Chinese translated to “eat your fingers off”. It obviously did not attract them buyers until they made much needed changes in the translated slogan.
4. Will go or Won’t Go
Again an American Company joins the list of companies that have made hillarious cultural blunders. General Motors, an American Multi National Corporation introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, but were surprised to see that there were not any interested buyers for it. Probing into the reasons, got them their answer that in Spanish, “no va” meant “it will not go”.
The South Americans rejected the car, forcing them to call back the car from the market, leading to an embarrassment. If the name itself questions the reliability of the product, then its high time that the marketers do their research well. They then named it “Caribe” and saw a substantial difference in their Sales figures.
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5. Advertisement Blunder
Sometimes cuteness does not help in attracting interested buyers or clients. Definition of cuteness changes with the cultural differences of people. A company manufacturing eyewear launching in the Thailand market, advertised a variety of cute animals wearing eyeglasses in their printed and visual form of advertisements.
It bombed back, as in Thailand, animals are considered to be a form of low life and no Thai would ever consider wearing something worn by the animals or living beings symbolically depicting low class people. Maybe they could buy those eyewears for their pets, which obviously was not the motive of the company.
6. Religious Blunder
Lastly the most sensitive aspect in any country is its religion. During the 1994 Soccer World Cup, Heineken company manufactured bottles of Heineken beers in a different style to attract people. They displayed the National flags of the finalists in the Soccer World Cup.
The idea was innovative but something that did not work out as planned. They had displayed the flag of Saudi Arabia, a finalist team which has a verse from the Holy Book Quran on their National Flag. As all of us know Quran prohibits alcohol, it was a clear cut blunder one can ever think of with regards to religion. They had to withdraw all of their bottles which had led to a major embarrassment for them. A little thoughtfulness could have saved the image of the company in the eyes of consumers and would not have gained them criticism.
A successful marketing campaign calls in for – defining a product or service, identifying the target market, knowing the competition, finding a niche, developing awareness, building credibility, being consistent and maintaining focus. If one cannot identify with their target market then one cannot expect to be successful by just being strong in the other areas.
All these blunders could be a lesson for the companies to not trust in computer aided translation literally and also to not ignore the sentiments and culture of their consumers. Rather a proper research could save them from all the unforeseen embarrassment and also help them blend with the culture of their target market.
Before a company starts developing a brochure, developing an advertisement, initiating a direct mail campaigning, joining an organization for networking, they should begin by mapping a path to success through the development of a consistent, focused marketing strategy covering all the aspects of a marketing campaign.