Benjamin Wey is an accomplished financier on Wall Street and the CEO of New York Global Group. He is also a prolific journalist that has written many articles about business, economics and life in general. Benjamin Wey shares his insight about marketing and management science in this article: Lessons to Learn When Epic Cultural Marketing Fails.
Doing business requires you to know your customer and to market your product to suit his or her needs and desires. Doing business internationally just magnifies the challenges for the marketing team. And sadly, marketing people are, like the rest of us, imperfect. Sometimes, the results are hilarious, and sometimes, they are just cringeworthy.
The auto business stands out here for a couple of reasons. First, its sales truly have become global and so have huge opportunities to get things wrong. Second, because there are so many different models sold all over the world, those opportunities grow every model year.
Sadly, the story about the Chevy Nova selling poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because no va means doesn’t go seems to be untrue. However, a few years ago, Buick did have to rename its LaCrosse the Allure in Canada because LaCrosse in Quebecois French means self-gratification. Mitsubishi’s Pajero has to be renamed the Montero because pajero means LaCrosse in Spanish. Toyota’s Fiera is a tough sell in Puerto Rico, where Fiera means an ugly old woman. And in Brazil, the Pinto never sold well. Pinto there means small penis. Of course, in the case of the Pinto, it could have been named something that means the driver of this car is the most well-endowed man in the Americas and it still wouldn’t have sold. The car was bumper-to-bumper garbage. Sometimes, marketing can only do so much.
Outside the automotive world, French multinational cheese producer Groupe Bel sold a brand of cheese called Kiri. De Gaulle himself once asked, How can you govern a country with 258 kinds of cheese? but then, he wasn’t the head of Middle East marketing for Groupe Bel. Whoever that was had to quickly change the name to kibi. In Persian, kiri refers to the penis and is sometimes used to describe something rotten. Not exactly the best way to sell fromage.
Of course, Iran likes to give just as good as it gets these days Iran-based Paxam has a detergent that uses the Farsi word for snow. It’s probably great stuff, but I won’t be washing my clothes in anything called Barf.
IKEA is a great company in a lot of ways, but sometimes even the pride of Scandinavia can screw up. Consider if you will the children’s bunk bed model called Gutvik. German speakers may be giggling now over the way that sounds an awful lot like Deustche for good f—. The company also made a computer table called Jerker (j in Scandinavian tongues is pronounced like a y) and a work bench called wait for it Fartfull. Yes, I thought it was a hoax, too, but apparently not.
Punctuation purists often note that there is a huge difference between, Let’s eat, children and Let’s eat children. The latter is, of course, a felony. But what about those annoying little thingies that some languages have, the cedilla, the accent grave, the circumflex? My personal favorite is the one about an American company that was celebrating its 35th year in business in Latin America. Thank God a sharp-eyed Spanish secretary noted that they used N and not Ñ as they should have. There’s a difference between 35 years in business and 35 anuses in business.
When GM was restructuring a few years ago, it discontinued the Pontiac label and kept Buick. To an American, the two are probably interchangeable, along with Oldsmobile. But in China, Buicks have huge cachet. Farewell, Pontiac, while Buick fares well and survives.
This all comes down to just one thing: Culture doesn’t translate. You can’t just take what works in one culture and expect it to work everywhere. Sometimes, we don’t even understand our own culture. Reebok had a running shoe for women at one point called Incubus, which is a male demon that drains women of their health with nocturnal visits of a sensual kind, often unwanted.
I just wish I could prove or disprove that Pepsi‘s Come alive with Pepsi slogan was translated in Taiwan as Come alive out of the grave with Pepsi, Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead, or Bring dead ancestors back from heaven.