Fine-tuning your approach to creating content for a foreign market is a significant task and will likely entail a considerable outlay of time and money. Regardless of the rationale and justification for operating in multiple locales, most of the time the end goal is to grow the customer base, and ultimately profits. In order to achieve this though, it is imperative to know how to adapt messaging and content for different cultures. You need to be “culturally relevant”.
Ignorance of cultural differences within your content can result in poor uptake, even reputation damage. There are also occasions you could end up in hot water legally. Ultimately, not considering the cultural differences within your content, on your websites and even on support and technical documentation can lead to outright failure and lack of customer retention.
History is littered with examples of companies of all sizes making cultural blunders when launching in new markets.
The first example is one showing how language needs to be localized, not just translated. The story was originally told to me when I moved into the language industry as a prime example of when translation is done badly. A certain large drinks brand had decided to grow into China, they launched with a great slogan (or so they thought!) “brings you back to life.” However when this was translated, it became “brings your ancestors back from the grave.” For the brand in question, this was a huge mistake, especially as they were trying to develop the brand on a global level.
A second example of how some content / campaigns just do not work for certain international markets. A very large, global consumer goods brand made a blunder which caused great offense in Japan. It was decided they would re-use a television advert in Japan that was popular in Europe. The advert in question showed a woman bathing, her husband entering the bathroom and touching her. No biggie right? Wrong. The Japanese market that the advert was aired to considered this an invasion of privacy, inappropriate behavior and ultimately in very poor taste.
The last is possibly my favorite example of how a great product/idea can ultimately fail just because local culture is not considered. Let me set the scene: it’s the 90’s, home computers are becoming increasingly popular. A certain large Japanese electronics company are way ahead of the times and is about to launch a touch screen, home computer. It was decided that the Japanese company wanted to push the new product in the US, using a famous American woodpecker, called Woody (he was a big deal Japan at the time apparently). The company did a minuscule amount of research, and proudly christened their latest device, “The Woody”. So what? Well, as I’m sure some of you will already be aware, “wood” is American slang for something a little inappropriate… oh well? Well it gets better! To distinguish their product from the competition, it was decided to name the touch-screen feature on the computer “Touch Woody “… Oh and then just to cap it off, the launch campaign slogan was to be “Touch Woody – the internet Pecker” … The long and short of it? It was not until the day before the ads were set to launch, that a member of their American team informed them of the sexual slang connotations. The lack of cultural awareness meant the innovative product was a failure. The campaign is now infamous, and it is actually studied by marketers.
With the growing pressure for companies to “go global”, it’s easy to see why local culture is still incredibly important and has to be considered when creating content for international markets. As highlighted above, many international companies have had glitches with expanding their brands worldwide because they haven’t put in the necessary research and effort when launching in a new market. It is absolutely imperative companies are aware of the potential implications that could come from using a translation of a certain piece of copy, or what a certain visual, image or slogan, could mean within a new market or culture.
Want to know more about the SDL approach to marketing localization? Check out SDL Managed Translation