Local Awareness in a Global Market

September 11, 2014

Living in Ireland has been a very eye-opening experience for me in terms of understanding different cultures.  I don’t think I was prepared for how different it would be from Canada when I moved here just less than two years ago.

Various things I am still learning and getting used to include driving on the other side of the road, the weather, multiple accents and dialects (many of which I still struggle to understand), slang words and phrases, and everyday products that are available here which I would never imagine finding in Canada (black pudding is made with what!?).

So with having to adjust to all of those differences, it was nice then to realize that some of the same products could actually be found in both countries.  For me, it was a matter of learning that certain items just have different names to what I’d have grown up with and become accustomed to.

‘Walkers’ crisps, for example, are called ‘Lays’ back home even though the product itself is the same in both countries.  When I have a craving for ‘Dove’ chocolate, I just grab a ‘Galaxy’ bar here instead.  And what you would call ‘Lynx’ body spray here?  Well that would be called ‘Axe’ body spray as far as I’m concerned.

Walkers                Lynx

The fact that product names can vary depending on where you find them is only scratch on the surface of all the considerations that need to be made when marketing a global product at a local level.

More and more large brands are attempting to centralize their marketing strategies in an effort to improve brand consistency, but could those actions actually be hindering, rather than enhancing, the efficiency of their campaigns?  It is crucial to take the time and effort to get to know your target audience and how it may differ from region to region.

Language barriers that exist between different regions on an international level play a major role in determining various factors of a brand or campaign.  This extends beyond just the naming process as I’ve already mentioned and should also be taken into consideration with taglines and slogans to ensure there are no embarrassing translations in other languages.

While major internationally-known brands and products may be fortunate enough not to have to worry as much about their message or campaign being lost-in-translation, some companies aren’t always so lucky.  The American Dairy Association, for instance, attempted to launch their “Got Milk?” campaign in Mexico where, translated, the question actually asks “Are you lactating?”.  Not exactly the most enticing way to promote your milk brand.  Another example of branding that got lost in translation – in China, KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan actually suggested they wanted you to “eat your fingers off”.  Thanks but no thanks KFC, I’ll just stick with the chicken.

But language is only one aspect to consider in attracting the consumer.  The cultural differences are much harder to recognize and work with effectively.  The actual content of advertisements must be relatable to the consumer within the targeted local market.  For example, we all know the old folklore story about babies being delivered by storks.  While that may be the tale we’ve heard all our lives in Europe and North America, in Japan the story is that giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents.  So you can see the confusion that Japanese parents experienced when Proctor & Gamble began selling Pampers diapers in Japan using the stork imagery.  The campaign worked well in the U.S., but never really caught on in Japan.

This extends beyond how a brand communicates, but also to the very product it sells.  For instance, I notice that there are a variety of flavours of crisps available in Europe that I’d never heard of before.  You’d be hard-pressed to find prawn cocktail flavour crisps on store shelves in North America.  Best Buy, an electronics retailer based primarily in North America, failed to take notice that Europeans prefer smaller shops rather than big department stores when they opened up locations in the UK in 2010. All 11 UK-based Best Buy stores were subsequently closed within a year and a half.  My point is, not only does your marketing content need to be consistent with the local cultural demographics, but the product or service itself needs to be tailored for the local market as well.

But I digress.

Whether or not you do your due-diligence to obtain this ever-important local knowledge could mean the difference between selling a vehicle with a “high-quality body” or one with a “high-quality corpse” (as Ford accidentally did when launching a campaign in Belgium).  So, while centralized marketing teams may help to maintain consistency in a brand as well as cut down on overheads and other costs, there’s definitely something to be said for having local insight, and it is essential to consider all of these aspects when launching a brand or product internationally.



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