Every language in the world has different rules that give different shape or significance to its words and phrases. It is not only about knowing all of the individual words; it is about understanding the impact that they have, and differentiating how, when, where, why, and under which circumstances we should use them.
Having a poor understanding of the influence of cross cultural differences in areas such as management, PR, advertising and negotiations can eventually lead to blunders or make a respectable company become a laughing stock in a foreign land.
Here are few classic cross cultural marketing blunders for your enjoyment.
1. Today I came across a pair of men’s pants on Diesel website that are named Pidar which in Russian means, well a very vulgar way of describing a homosexual person.
2. Locum is a Swedish company. As most companies do at Christmas they sent out Christmas cards to customers. In 1991 they decided to give their logo a little holiday spirit by replacing the “o” in Locum with a heart. You can see the result..
3. The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks. Enough said..
4. In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto “Wang Cares”. Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not really give a very positive image to any company.
5. There are several examples of companies getting tangled up with bad translations of products due to the word “mist”. We had “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink), “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) all flopping as “mist” in German means dung/manure. Fancy a glass of Irish dung?
6. “Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.
7. In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organizations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.
8. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”.
9. Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it “Honda Jazz”.
10. A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world is the staff at the African port of Stevadores saw the “internationally recognized” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!