The Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Marketing to Different Cultures

Expanding your product or service to a global scale is a key growth aim for many businesses. But when it comes to creating an international marketing strategy, it’s sometimes a case of easier said than done.

If your strategy isn’t working quite as well as you’d hoped, it may be that not enough thought has been put into the different approaches required for marketing to different cultures. But don’t panic; you can easily bulletproof your multicultural marketing strategy by avoiding these top three mistakes…

1. Translation, not localisation

There’s no doubt that online translation tools have revolutionised the way we use the internet, allowing the average person access to a practically infinite number of webpages.

But simply translating your marketing assets with no further thought can have disastrous effects, as KFC found out – a poor translation of their slogan ‘finger lickin’ good’ was released in China, which meant ‘eat your fingers off’.


When so much of effective marketing relies on memorable and fun writing, such as alliteration, puns and idioms (like KFC’s slogan), translation can be problematic.

This is why not only is an excellent translator needed, but creative licence must also be given so that they can effectively convey the meaning and feel of the brand. They must also have an understanding of the culture, as a consideration of localisation (not just perfect translation) will have a positive impact.

An example of this can be a red call to action button in an email – whereas more ‘positive’ colours like green garner a higher click through rate in western countries, eastern countries like China may find that colour more appealing due to cultural significance.

But finally, while localisation is always the desired outcome, sometimes you have to admit when it’s not possible – in which case, it’s almost better to do nothing. In contrast to KFC, McDonalds acknowledged that global slogans are hard to make work – they didn’t create ‘I’m lovin’ it’ until 2003, and furthermore, it was kept in English for most countries.

2. Not Doing Your Research

Here at MVF, Expert Market’s parent company, we pride ourselves on being data driven and never making assumptions – and this is completely applicable to quantitative research too, which is why doing research into culture is a must before expanding your marketing strategy.

P&G did not do this, and assumed a TV advert that was a hit in the United States would be similarly popular elsewhere. It depicted a man walking into the bathroom while his wife was having a bath, but in Japan, this was viewed as an invasion of privacy and therefore rude.


So even though P&G had localised their advert by using Japanese actors, they lacked a deeper understanding of the culture to which they were marketing – to detrimental effect. This also applies to seemingly simple elements of digital marketing – take the use of emojis.

Emojis are used in a range of marketing channels, as they add an element of fun and are visually appealing, but the emoji of a ‘thumbs up’, commonly used in the United States and Europe, is actually considered an offensive gesture in some Middle Eastern cultures.

To delve even deeper into cultural nuances, despite being the birthplace of the emoji, Japan is actually moving away from the use of them towards the wider use of stickers, as they are becoming more westernised and therefore almost ‘outdated’ to their culture. If the purpose of marketing is to make your product appealing, it’s probably a good idea to find out what is and isn’t appealing to different cultures!

3. Overthinking It

The final mistake to avoid when marketing to different cultures might seem like a contradiction to the previous two, but needs to be accounted for nonetheless, as overall revenue and profit are clearly key drivers of any business’ success.

While a consideration of different cultures is evidently important, money can also be wasted if too much emphasis is unnecessarily placed on it, when it may not be completely applicable to your specific product or service.

Nike could be considered an example, when it comes to one specific demographic – western milennials. Despite Nike spending over $3 billion on marketing assets, young westerners actually value the shoe brand Toms more, showing that even if your international strategy is world class, there are some cultural values that cannot be influenced by good marketing.


A consideration of the context and space in which your business product or service operates is key, and in particular, the speed at which a potential customer will be consuming your advertising.

For example, in a study at a Californian university, Anglo and Asian American students were given different adverts for Welch’s juice – one promotional (highlighting the benefits of drinking the juice) and one preventative in its messaging (describing the things they would miss out on by not drinking the juice). While Anglo students favoured the promotional messaging, Asian students preferred the preventative marketing message.

However, when they were asked to consider their selection more carefully, there was almost no difference in preference.

Therefore, while slogans and digital marketing campaigns should have a careful consideration of culture due to the fleeting nature they are consumed in, if your product or service needs a little more thought, culture may not necessarily have as big an impact as you might think.

Although its impact varies across different contexts, culture affects us more than you think, and can make or break your international marketing strategy. So what’s the simple solution? Do your research.

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