February saw the Hull branch of the Krispy Kreme doughnut chain issuing a hurried apology after they posted a Facebook ad for ‘KKK Wednesdays’, their unfortunate but unwitting acronym for a half-term ‘Krispy Kreme Klub’ promotion. And this was a local promotion, written in the home language.
Vitaminwater found themselves in a similar situation in Canada, which has both English- and French-speaking regions. A 2013 promotion randomly paired English and French words in the bottle caps with the idea of generating funny nonsense phrases. As bad luck would have it, one cap paired ‘You’ with the French word for ‘late’, resulting in the message ‘You retard’… the French for ‘shower’ also found its way to an English-speaker. For whom ‘douche’ is just half way to ‘douche-bag’.
With so many campaigns now rolled out globally, the risk of causing unintended offense somewhere in the world has never been greater. So what can marketers do to guard against the brand damage of cultural and linguistic faux-pas? The answer: Build in time for cross-cultural checks.
Here are three key elements advertisers need to consider:
1/ Name checks
A no-brainer, you might think.
Nonetheless, from Honda’s notorious ‘Fitta’ (‘Fitta’ means ‘Pussy’ in Scandinavia) to Umbro’s quickly-renamed ‘Zyklon’ trainers, product, model and service names have tripped up some high-profile brands.
So the very first requirement is to check whether your proposed name means anything, sounds similar to anything – or even rhymes with anything – in the languages of the global markets where it will appear. Apart from avoiding the potential for offence, you might also escape having a name which has locals bent double with laughter.
2/ Relevance, resonance – and cultural sensitivity
Months and months of market research, strategic planning, creativity, trial and error, and sheer work go into the development of an ad campaign. And then it all falls into place: Brand strategy and campaign objectives delivered in finely calibrated creative.
But just a moment… is your creative relevant to the lifestyles, values and motivations of your consumers in Brazil and Bulgaria? From China to Chile? Qatar to Quebec?
Will your audience in those countries receive your concept, message and visuals the way you intend them? Is there a risk of their being misinterpreted?
How about the scenarios depicted, the casting and the props: Will they come across as realistic and convincing – or off-key?
Going into a more conservative culture, what can and can’t you show? Seeking to avoid causing offence, IKEA cautiously airbrushed the women out of the family bathroom scenes of their 2012 Saudi Arabian catalogue. And ended up having to apologise for causing offence.
3/ Transcreation feasibility
During creative development, multiple copy options will be explored until every last nuance has been polished to perfection.
The result? An unforgettable headline with an ingenious play on the brand name. A headline that uses idiom in a witty tie-in with the visuals. Bodycopy that leverages layers of meaning – and results in layers of resonance. A tagline which is distinctive, ownable, and ultra-concise!
It works perfectly. In English.
But are you going to use English across all your global markets? Unlikely, for many reasons. Amongst them, advertising regulations in what may be key markets.
With a global campaign, the creative team need to bear in mind the challenges of future adaptation. In the languages of your global markets, how close will you be able to get to what the English line achieves? Can you deliver your creative intent without losing the finer nuances? What about the layered meaning? The embedded idiom that ties in with your key visual? Can these be recreated in a way that reads fluently and naturally, without sacrificing brevity or impact?
A transcreation feasibility check will flag these challenges – and potential solutions – ahead of time.