4 Cross Cultural Marketing Flops you won’t Forget in a Hurry

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It’s time to take it international…or is it? This is my first blog as a Kwintessential employee! Exciting times are ahead as I venture from my PR and Marketing bubble, into the wonderful world of language, translation and interpreting, only to find, they complement each other quite nicely.

So, as an introductory blog, let’s take it back to basics with Cross Culture Marketing. Whether you’re launching a product, entering new markets, or taking business abroad, your company will need a Marketing plan. A Marketing plan includes everything from understanding your target market and the cultures within that market, to your competitive position in that market and of course how you intend to reach that market.

As our world becomes more and more globalised, the call for businesses to explore opportunities internationally is vastly increasing. The importance for today’s business personnel to understand the impact of cross cultural differences on business, trade, and internal company organisation will without a doubt determine the overall success of a campaign – but most, do not, resulting in misunderstandings and blunders (similar to those covered below). The majority of companies making their move around the globe are not fully aware of the impact that their products and services are having in these areas, and more importantly are uneducated on how they will be perceived by the locals.

Here I’ve re-capped a selection of the most shameful international marketing and business activities, that haven’t gone entirely to plan, due to the impact of language and cultural differences. Remember: this is how NOT to do it…

Source: Mike Fromowitz on Campaign


When Coca Cola entered the China market, they named their product something that when pronounced sounded like “Coca-Cola”. The only problem was that the characters used meant “Bite the Wax Tadpole”. When they learned of their mistake, they later changed it to a set of characters that mean “Happiness in the mouth”.




Fiat released an ad in Italy in which actor Richard Gere drives a Lanica Delta from Hollywood to Tibet. Gere is hated in China for being an outspoken supporter of the Dalai Lama – there was a huge online uproar on Chinese message boards commenting that they would never buy a Fiat car.

Parker Pen

parker pen marketing blunderWhen Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. Instead, the company thought that the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad actually read: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. This is a PERFECT example of why companies should use a professional and complete translation agency to verify the correct translation of the line in question to avoid such embarrassment!



Oh no, it hasn’t just happened once.In Chinese the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan ‘finger lickin’ good came out as “Eat your fingers off”. When launching in Hong Kong, they used chickens raised and fed in China. The Chinese feed their chickens fish – so the taste was nowhere near the same as American KFC. The company had to close the shop and did not open until 10 years later!!



When Pepsi expanded their market to China they launched with the slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life”. What they didn’t realise is that the phrase translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” A very messy mistake to make, especially for a brand trying to build itself on a global level.

Although cruel, cross cultural marketing mistakes are a humorous means of understanding the impact poor cultural awareness or translations can have on a product or company when venturing abroad, these embarrassing blunders are extremely important and could put your brand in danger for years to come.

So, how can Kwintessential help? At Kwintessential we take professional “translation” to the next level. We have an extensive team of native language copywriters that specialize in advertising and promotional translation, to ensure that your company’s key marketing and business messages are accurately localized for your target market. When our copywriters ‘Transcreate’ these messages, they take into consideration not just the language, but also the culture, political and economic climate, hyper-local colloquialisms and local perceptions of the market.

In addition to this, Kwintessential offers a range of flexible and effective intercultural workshops. From start to finish we design, tailor, and deliver the workshops specifically for each client. After coming to us with your request for our team of intercultural experts we will then analyse and identify your core needs and will suggest correlating areas that may be beneficial to your training.

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