P&G is the source for recent uproar in Germany’s media landscape initiated by a special edition of one of their well-known laundry detergents. The intention had all been good: To promote their detergent “Ariel” in a special edition for the upcoming soccer world championships. The boxes featured a large number “88” on the back of the white soccer jersey of the German national team. Big foul!
Why? While the 88 on the box meant to display the total amount of loads created by a new formula, 85+3. The 88 is well known in Germany as a symbol of Neo-Nazi groups to represent the Nazi salute, which is illegal in its written, vocal, or gesture form. Therefore Neo-Nazis are using the number 8, which means the 8th letter in the alphabet.
P&G is not the first one to drop a clanger in the marketing space.
Well known is the story about Mitsubishi’s failure on introducing its SUV “Pajero” in the Latin American market. Sure, who wants to drive a car named like a "masturbating man"?
Colgate Palmolive tried to introduce a toothpaste named “Cue” in the French market – a pre-launch check would have revealed, that there is a notorious porn magazine named “Cue” known in France.
This list can go on and on, but there are not only big brand marketing failures, they are just the ones hitting the newsrooms.
Whenever you are creating any piece of content, display or any kind of marketing material, be aware of cultural differences. As in my intro example, the number 88 would have been a great idea for China, where the eight is a lucky number, but a really bad idea for Germany. We all need to acknowledge that content needs to be checked for cultural glitches for every single market it’s intended to be used in.
There are some pitfalls especially with numbers, symbols and analogies.
While number 13 is a common number of bad luck in most European countries and the US, it is – as all odd numbers – a lucky number in Russia.
Talking about symbols, i.e. the “o.k.” hand sign is o.k. in most countries, but you better don’t use it in Brazil, unless you intentionally want to insult somebody.
Analogies are another great example. We all like to use analogies to make our point, often related to sports, as this seems to be a common denominator of all kind of audiences. Fine, but if you are intending to use a sports analogy you might stay way from sports, which might mean a lot in your country but nothing in the one you want to market to – i.e. if you market in India you might want to refer to cricket instead of American Football.
Here are 5 essential tips to keep you out of the sticky wicket:
1. If you are using symbols, numbers, or you want to launch a new name: Ask the Internet! Check for all possible meanings in the countries and cultures you want to market to. (BTW: “meaning of 88 in Germany” as a search query would have revealed its nature on the first result page, and have prevented the P&G’s massive PR disaster.
2. Don’t translate content – localize it. There are agencies out there, specialized on doing this.
3. Check with your local peers on the ground in the respective territory in an early stage – you don’t want to present the final content and then find out, it’s not going to work.
4. Make sure analogies you want to use could work as they are in the respective country/culture, or prepare another version for the relevant territory – and don’t forget accompanying graphics.
5. If you are working on a major launch – i.e. a new product, campaign etc. test it with a sample group and gather their feedback. Use this information and perceptive positioning to define appropriate branding elements and messaging.
What are your tips for strategizing your global marketing messaging strategy?