Your business plan is written, you’ve founded your start-up and had your first success. Next on the list is global expansion. After all, you’ve already put together some world-class campaigns in English; surely you can also use them to show the rest of the world how competent you are.
It seems tempting to reuse identical content for global expansion. It’s cost-effective, stress-free and is sure to lead to success, since it’s already been tested – right? The problem is, it very rarely works. International marketing needs more than a correct translation in the target language: it needs local knowledge.
The devil is in the details
It seems obvious that international content has to overcome a few linguistic hurdles. Simple translation errors are frustrating but they can be avoided – by using a professional translation agency with a four-eyes principle, for example. But it’s easy to forget that the devil is usually in the details, particularly those details that you haven’t got your translator to look over. Product or brand names, for example.
This is why Toyota found that the MR2 (which the French would read as ‘merdeux’) did not sell very well in France. And the Kinki Nippon Tourist Company, one of the largest travel companies in Japan, had to learn the hard way what kinky means in English – after receiving countless lewd calls instead of genuine American customers.
Cold beer lands in hot water
Cultural stumbling blocks during international expansion come up time and time again in marketing. And yet they only become apparent after you’ve committed your first faux pas. There is no end to the examples: in 1994, Heineken printed the flags of every country that had qualified for the World Cup on its labels. Including Saudia Arabia, whose flag contains the Islamic statement of faith. Linking this verse with alcoholic drinks naturally went down like a lead balloon.
Procter & Gamble learned in Japan that not even having children works the same way in every country. The photos on the first Pampers packets there caused a lot of confusion, because in Japanese mythology, children aren’t brought by the stork but come floating down the river inside a giant peach.
From Pretty Woman to geopolitics
A celebrity appearance, a beautiful car, compassion for a political minority: Fiat had thought of everything to ensure that Richard Gere and his campaign for the new Lancia Delta were a hit. Almost everything. But the Chinese leadership were less than pleased with the statement of support for Tibet – Gere is one of the most prominent advocates of Tibetan independence. This came at the inopportune moment that Fiat were planning to expand into China. The company had to distance itself from Gere’s social and political views in a public statement – a huge flop for their celebrity endorsement.
Local content leads to global success
This all shows that successful global content needs local knowledge. The choice between simple translation, localization and new content for new markets has to be made on a case-by-case basis – but there are very few companies who can manage entirely without the support of local professionals.
Cover picture via Pixabay (CC0)