The wrong shade of blue

Marketing your local product in foreign territories can be a tricky business. There are many cultural aspects a marketing department needs to consider before entering an overseas market that may differ from the the local market they are used to selling to. There are many examples of when the marketing strategy went wrong. One of the big mistakes, and key things that needs to be investigated in advance, is how the product being sold translates into another language.

There is one recurring German word which has made for poor translation in German speaking countries on more than one occasion. This tricky word is simple but dangerous – MIST, which unfortunately translates to MANURE. Some products that have had this problem include the Irish alcoholic drink known as “Irish Mist”, Clairol’s curling iron “Mist Stick” and the Rolls Royce “Silver Mist”. This shows that time and again, companies haven’t always learnt from each other’s mistakes. Instead they have repeated them. A simple google search could have saved them the trouble.

When marketing internationally or entering another country’s market you should consider researching their culture and religion. A good example of a company which didn’t think this through is the Italian car manufacturer FIAT. They created an advertisement in Italy with Richard Gere driving a Lancia Delta from Hollywood to the former residence of the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Even though the ad wasn’t meant for the Chinese market, it didn’t stop consumers in that market sharing their opinions online. Opinions which stated they would never want to purchase a FIAT. It is known that Richard Gere is Buddhist and he has been campaigning for Tibetan independence so the slogan “The power to be different” was interpreted as a statement. After all the fuss about the ad, Fiat had no choice but to apologize. This is a lesson about how important it is to be in tune with what is happening around the world, and if you use a famous person with strong public opinions in an ad, it is important to research the effect this may have.

Now, let’s look at how using the wrong colour can also cause issues when selling products abroad. Pepsi made a mistake with colour in Asia. It had deep blue coloured vending machines which they decided to change to light blue. In South Asia, light blue is seen as a symbol of death and mourning. It wasn’t a clever or well researched move which led to a drop in sales. The morale of this story is to make sure you do your research about the meaning of colours in different cultures before using them.

Last but not least I’d like to share with you a mistake Nike made in 1997. They released new sneakers but the launch didn’t quite go according to the plan. Soon after, they had to recall 38,000 pairs of these new sneakers because the ‘flaming air’ logo on the back of the shoe had a strong resemblance to the word Allah written in Arabic letters. Muslims were not happy about this as they thought that was disrespectful and especially because shoes get dirty, muddy and sweaty it was viewed as unacceptable to have the name of their God on the back.

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There are many things to consider when selling abroad, or when moving into new markets. Simple details like the shade of a colour or the curve of a line can have a much greater impact than you would expect, and this impact might not be a positive one. That’s not to say you can predict every possible problem, but having your research done could certainly save a lot of time, energy and money.

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One Response to The wrong shade of blue

  1. kristianharju says:

    Really interesting blog. Flow of the text was nice and examples were great and informative.
    If an alcoholic drinks name was Irish Manure it would definitely get my attention!

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