It can be a good giggle reading through a list of missteps made by international brands in local markets. But, after the laughs subside, you should remember that even the most established of international brands blunder occasionally, so you should be vigilant when you create a brand communications strategy.

Direct translations may miss the mark

There is no shortage of examples regarding translation fails in marketing. From Gerber sounding like the French word for “vomit” to Pepsi Cola’s “Come Alive with Pepsi” being translated literally into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” in Chinese. Or the American Dairy Association asking South Americans “Are Your Lactating?”, instead of “Got Milk?”

Most recently, Coca-Cola tried to embrace the local culture with “”Kia ora, mate”, intending to say “Greetings, mate”. Unfortunately, “ma-te” in Maori means “death”.


Certain historical references are taboo…..

In a case of being tone deaf to local history, the UK sportswear maker Umbro named a new line of footwear “Zyklon”, without realizing (or researching possibly) that that is the name of the gas used by the Nazis during WWII at the concentration camps.

Similar ignorance or insensitivity also recently occurred in Japan. Disney Japan tweeted an image of Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, celebrating a “merry unbirthday” with “congratulations on a trifling day” message. Unfortunately, they sent this tweet out on the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

….as well as religious ones

Sometimes, a faux pas is committed unintentionally. Nike had to recall a line of footwear when someone noticed that the flame decoration in the back of the shoes looked like the word “Allah” written in Arabic.

Heineken perhaps thought it was celebrating all the participants in the 1994 World Cup by including all the flags on their labels. The problem was, the Saudi Arabia flag contains a religious verse –this offended Muslims who were insulted by their religious being associated with alcoholic beverages.

Even maps aren’t safe

Both the Gap and Marriott International ran afoul of China when they, one through a t-shirt, the other through their website, depicted a map of China that did not include regions that the Chinese government claimed. This may be considered more a geo-political than a cultural issue, but it still has cultural ramifications.

Coca-Cola, likewise, could not win for losing when its holiday messages included a Russian map that didn’t include the Crimea. When they reissued the message including Crimea, Coca-Cola was boycotted in the Ukraine. (A little history – Russian annexed the Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014 and it has been a political powder keg ever since.)

Midas PR are experts at taking global brands local and local brands global

You may or may not have known about these pitfalls. In some cases, you may not have been aware there was a problem, just the companies mentioned. But why take that chance when there’s Midas PR? Our multi-cultural, multi-lingual team can help you analyze your branding and your target markets to help you plan the best strategy. Contact us now to discuss your brand communications today!