Cross Cultural Marketing Blunders
January 27, 2009 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Cross Cultural Marketing Blunders -- such as Panasonic's motto, "Touch Woody - the internet Pecker"

It's part of the web site for a marketing firm which offers to help international marketers avoid such mistakes, but it's still fun to read.
posted by Chocolate Pickle (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have to admit, that Locum logo with the heart replacing the O made me laugh really hard.

There are a lot of these stories out there - though beware, it seems to be a topic that attracts apocryphal anecdotes.
posted by nanojath at 11:41 PM on January 27, 2009


Ahah, cute. The one about Umbro is the most surprising - it's not even an issue of translation and "false enemies" and slang with respect to languages, a cursory Google search would've uncovered the unfortunate association. Is the marketing department really that lazy?
posted by Phire at 11:58 PM on January 27, 2009


Do the Japanese not get there are many slang terms for the penis? And that it can cause your multi-billion dollar company to look like it just hired a marketing firm run by 13 year-olds?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:23 AM on January 28, 2009


Pepsi Pornographic?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:53 AM on January 28, 2009


Phire: My memory of the story is that Zyklon derives from some word, I want to say "cyclone", that would make sense for a shoe or a pesticide/genocide gas; it might not be as distinctive a word to a German speaker. Still a pretty amazing blunder though.
"fitta" was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman's genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it "Honda Jazz"
!!!
posted by hattifattener at 1:00 AM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


It wouldn't surprise me if Zyklon was derived from cyclone, hattifattener, but the firm in question was UK-based. One would think that when modifying a word for a brand using more "exotic" letters to make the brand seem more unique, marketing would have the sense to check whether or not the modified word actually means anything else, hahah, especially when it's a language that shares a background with many other languages.

That said, if they didn't do stupid things like these, we wouldn't have this FPP, so...
posted by Phire at 1:04 AM on January 28, 2009


I don't think "Stevadores, Africa" is a real place (and neither does Google Maps). This must be a second-hand retelling of a story somebody's nephew's friend once heard on a radio station in that state they lived in back a couple years ago when they were dating that blonde.

And makes me wonder how many of the other stories are made-up. Up to half? Could be.
posted by barnacles at 1:20 AM on January 28, 2009


It's a UK company‽ Okay, it's a pretty incomprehensible gaffe, then.
posted by hattifattener at 1:32 AM on January 28, 2009


Language fun: "commode" is a word in both English and German. Its meaning is not too terribly different, except for what, exactly, is accommodated. So all y'all Americans have some fun with the knowledge that Germans keep their dishes in the commode.
posted by Goofyy at 2:10 AM on January 28, 2009


It's not necessary to go cross-cultural. What genius came up with "Microsoft WinCE" for instance?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:34 AM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not a cross-cultural blunder, but French shoppers are sometimes amused when they come over to the UK or the US and find clothes shops touting how dirty their products are (Sale = dirty). While the occasional anglophone shopper wonders why French retail stores let you know they're out of product (Solde = sale).

My personal favourite is the Toyota MR2. I don't recall if it was ever sold under that name in France, but it would be pronounced in French as em-ehr-duh = merde = shit.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:37 AM on January 28, 2009


The Locum one really happened, but in 2001, not 1991 as the article has it. Here is the whole ad. The Honda one appears to be genuine too: at least there's a contemporary Swedish press clipping about it reproduced here.
posted by misteraitch at 3:49 AM on January 28, 2009


I don't think "Stevadores, Africa" is a real place (and neither does Google Maps).

And 'stevedores' are the guys that unload boats, so methinks this story got a little twisted in the teling.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:06 AM on January 28, 2009


True story: In 1989 Ford had to rename their new model the Probe after marketing experts and focus groups informed them that Shitbox, while honest, just wasn't a good name for a car.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:35 AM on January 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


What genius came up with "Microsoft WinCE" for instance?

Or the McDonald's "McWrap"?
posted by biscotti at 4:40 AM on January 28, 2009


I loved it when I lived by the Filipino grocery store. Every time a Mexican friend visited, I would get them a Mamon and a tray of assorted Puto.

I have always wanted to send letters to big stores in Mexico trying to place these. So while there can be funny cross cultural marketing mistakes, the linked site sucks balls.
posted by dirty lies at 4:56 AM on January 28, 2009



What genius came up with "Microsoft WinCE" for instance?

Or the McDonald's "McWrap"?


Or McDonald's encouraging people to have sex with their sandwiches?
posted by fuse theorem at 5:17 AM on January 28, 2009


In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company...

That's not a cross-cultural problem.
posted by DU at 5:21 AM on January 28, 2009


Every time a Mexican friend visited, I would get them a Mamon

Mexican mamon
posted by Pollomacho at 5:25 AM on January 28, 2009


P.o.B.: The Japanese have plenty of slang terms for the penis, but that's not the sort of thing you learn in your high school English class... I don't think a friendly elephant (or potato) mascot would bring possible sexual connotations to my mind any more obviously than an cheerful cartoon bird to theirs. Doesn't make the mistake any less amusing, though!
posted by daelin at 5:34 AM on January 28, 2009


Poor maligned Wang. It's not the family's fault that the name has such phallic connotations. The theater in Boston once named the Wang Center is a perfectly lovely place. And I am certain that in 2000, the box office set up one of those local cell numbers (you know, the ones provided by a local carrier that start with # or *) with the best of intentions.

However, this led to one of the best things I ever heard on WBZ radio. At the very end of an ad for a show at the Wang Center, the announcer said this:
And for more information on upcoming events at the Wang Center call (800) 123-4567, or pound wang on your Verizon cellular phone.
I only ever heard that once during drivetime. I hope there weren't many accidents.
posted by Spatch at 5:53 AM on January 28, 2009 [17 favorites]


This site has been up on MetaFilter before and seems like 75% pithy factoids and 25% made up nonsense.
posted by Paid In Full at 5:54 AM on January 28, 2009


Gary Marshall has claimed that Joanie Loves Chachi was the highest rated American program in the history of Korean television because "chachi" is Korean for "penis."
Snopes says this is false, so I am feeling kind of sad now.
posted by orme at 5:56 AM on January 28, 2009


Do they have a similar page about copy-editing blunders?
posted by fidelity at 6:21 AM on January 28, 2009


It wouldn't surprise me if Zyklon was derived from cyclone, hattifattener, but the firm in question was UK-based.

And this isn't exactly cross-cultural either, but a bit after I graduated from college I sat in on a focus group for a new citrus soft drink. One of the proposed names was Urgent Orange. I'll admit I WinCEd at the most obvious mental association.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:53 AM on January 28, 2009


First I didn't get the snow day at work I was expecting.

Then nanojath debunks the Chevy Nova story.

This day just keeps getting worse.
posted by spamguy at 7:01 AM on January 28, 2009


What about monocultural marketing blunders (or is that genius?). Want to trade in your old breasts for a newer, perkier model? Go to BAAPS.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:07 AM on January 28, 2009


I worked for an electronics firm that purchased and used Wayne Kerr equipment.

There were always some jokers that said we were using wanker oscilloscopes.
posted by Drasher at 7:11 AM on January 28, 2009


Isn't the problem really that people just have too many dirty words?

/church lady
posted by Miko at 7:26 AM on January 28, 2009


I checked out another of those posts and was struck by a post that claims to "illustrate to people how crucial cultural awareness is in international business today" so readily uses numerous cultural stereotypes (I have no comment on the validity of said stereotypes.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:04 AM on January 28, 2009


It's not necessary to go cross-cultural. What genius came up with "Microsoft WinCE" for instance?

Some companies catch things like that just in time -- about ten years ago, Reebok was getting ready to start selling a new model of womens' running shoe. They named this model of shoe the "Incubus".

Only when it was just about to go into stores did someone finally point out that they had named their new women's shoe after a medieval demon who was said to rape women in their sleep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on January 28, 2009


Not cross cultural, but my mom and grandma always used to use the old fashioned word "physic" to mean "enema." So every time I see this product in the store, I can't help but laugh a little inside.
posted by Fennel B. at 8:27 AM on January 28, 2009


Obviously linking challenged. The product I was referencing is Yoplait Fizzix, a fizzy yogurt in a tube (itself an abomination).
posted by Fennel B. at 8:30 AM on January 28, 2009


Or McDonald's encouraging people to have sex with their sandwiches?

Having sex with your vegetables is much better for you.
posted by lukemeister at 8:32 AM on January 28, 2009


My first thought was "who would name a shoe after a nu-metal band?" But it seems the band Incubus rose to fame a little too late to save Reebok their troubles.

The story I read about the false Nova story reminded me that the Bossa Nova genre existed before the car was sold.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2009


Some companies catch things like that just in time -- about ten years ago, Reebok was getting ready to start selling a new model of womens' running shoe. They named this model of shoe the "Incubus".

Only when it was just about to go into stores did someone finally point out that they had named their new women's shoe after a medieval demon who was said to rape women in their sleep.


Or worse, after a shit band.
posted by kersplunk at 8:36 AM on January 28, 2009


It's not necessary to go cross-cultural. What genius came up with "Microsoft WinCE" for instance?

Always felt that way about the Mitsubishi Aspire. It's not a great car but, you know. It aspires to be.

(of course now I have a particularly ass-kicking Acer Aspire laptop so I'll leave that one)

On the cross-cultural front, it has been explained to me why root beer will never take hold in Aus/NZ, at least by that name.

And I once wrote in to the (then) Women's Television Network to explain why I thought their dreamy foreign romance tale "Glasgow Kiss" might have gone with a better name.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2009


I've always been fond of Bimbo Bread, a product of Grupo Bimbo.
posted by gudrun at 10:59 AM on January 28, 2009


I don't get "Glasgow Kiss". Not that it's a particularly good name, but...
posted by BaxterG4 at 11:41 AM on January 28, 2009


If I recall correctly, a "Glasgow kiss" is a fighting move whereby you grab your opponent's head, duck your own, and ballistically introduce their nose to your head, mashing it flat.
posted by scrump at 12:33 PM on January 28, 2009


The article reads like some shit emailed by my grandmother when she got her first AOL account. The website reads a little easier without the 8 levels deep of right angle brackets and the little flower gifs, however.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:49 PM on January 28, 2009


Some fun cross cultural communication oddments:

Gut fährt (pronounced good fart) in German is good trip or drives/travels well. In a BMw ad it packs an extra smile.

Ausfahrt (ows fart) is exit.

In Italy the word cazzi is plural for the male sex organ. In Greece the same sound is the command to sit down.

In Indian English the word homely is used to mean domestically inclined/attractive, in Western English it means unattractive.

Dong in Tibetan is face.

In Tibetan you have to be careful about asking anybody if they like their work (laykah gabbo doo?) because the word for work (laykah) also means to have sex.

Sheila Dikshit - Mayor of Delhi.
posted by nickyskye at 4:56 PM on January 28, 2009


Today I received an email from Costco advertising a Cummins Onan Portable Generator.
posted by lukemeister at 9:20 PM on January 28, 2009


Miko asks (perhaps winking):
Isn't the problem really that people just have too many dirty words?
I don't think so. You reminded me of an effort to build a harassment-free children's video game:
"We spent several weeks building a UI that used pop-downs to construct sentences, and only had completely harmless words - the standard parts of grammar and safe nouns like cars, animals, and objects in the world."

"We thought it was the perfect solution, until we set our first 14-year old boy down in front of it. Within minutes he'd created the following sentence: I want to stick my long-necked Giraffe up your fluffy white bunny."
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:31 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't get "Glasgow Kiss".

British slang for a headbutt.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:56 AM on January 29, 2009


« Older Colour on the Thames...  |  Seeing and Believing: The neve... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments