Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Now for something a little lighter...What not to do when marketing internationally

I'm writing to you from Chicago and just finished a meeting with a dear friend, Rob Nelson. The ultimate 'multi-tasker,' one of Rob's many responsibilities includes expansion of his association into other countries. We talked a little about that and the gentle, prove-yourself-as-you-go approach necessary when an American based association expands into other countries.

Now, as I sit here in Starbucks thinking about our conversation, I'm reminded of a collection of 'international goofs' performed by very well known and respected companies that truly underline Rob's observations.

I'm sure that many of you have heard or read these yourself over the years, but it never hurts to try and learn (or relearn) from others. Here are a few for your enjoyment:

There will never be a mass market for motor cars - about 1,000 in Europe - because that is the limit on the number of chauffeurs available! (Spokesman for Daimler Benz)

I think there is a world market for about five computers. (Thomas J. Watson of IBM)

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."

In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead."

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.

An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."

Japan's second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a "C," the idea must be feasible. (Yale University management professor on Fred Smith's paper proposing a reliable overnight delivery service - Federal Express)

A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. (Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies)

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux".

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside since most people can't read English.

While this is not directly related to 'membership marketing,' I hope you understand my message...always double-check your work. Like a carpenter, "measure twice, cut once," ask other people to take a look and get their informed opinion.

I hope you enjoyed this and had a 'giggle' or two.

Have a great day!


  1. This was really cool reading. Loved it Erik.

    It reminded me of another important aspect of doing business accross various political boundaries and cultures.

    For example, when I travel to Islamic countries, I never shake hands with the ladies. Instead it's a gentle node of the head, and then move over and sit with the men. There is no hugging, etc.

    On the other end, the importance of language. I recall a teacher from India in an American classroom. He was new to this country and asked if anyone had a rubber. Well, as to be expected, there were chuckles as that word has a very different conotation here in American. What the teacher was wanting was an erasor, which in India is referred to as rubber.