Keys to Avoiding Global Branding Missteps

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on December 11, 2012

Globally, there are two billion consumers who spend trillions of dollars annually on things they need and want. That is an enormous, very attractive target market for products or services. Before opening businesses in Boston, Biarritz or Berlin, it’s important to plan your brand strategy to avoid costly branding blunders.

Let’s look at a few companies who made big branding blunders. These missteps were embarrassing and expensive to the companies involved:

  • Gerber introduced its line of baby food in France without hiring native writers. Gerber in French slang means “to vomit.”
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken’s tag line, “finger-lickin’ good” translated to “eat your fingers off” in Chinese.
  • A deodorant marketed in Japan used an octopus with eight arms. Japanese consumers call the octopus appendages “legs.”
  • Pepsi’s “Come Alive with Pepsi” campaign meant “Pepsi will bring your dead ancestors back from the dead” in Taiwan.

Some branding accidents have happier endings. For example, vehicle steering wheels are usually mounted on the right front for United Kingdom and Japanese markets. U.S.-made Honda Accords with left-side steering wheels sold out in Japan because that feature is considered a status symbol.

Brand considerations

To develop a successful global brand, there are a few key preliminary steps to consider, including:

  • Ensure the brand makes sense across many cultures and languages
  • Engage native speakers and writers within target countries
  • Conduct a connotation check done as part of trademark searches

What is a connotation check? It’s a verification process to determine if the brand will make a pleasing emotional impression on the target market. Local linguists identify reactions associated with product names interpreted in other languages or cultures.

For example, in English “slender,” “emaciated” and “lanky” all have closely related meanings. But the emotional reaction to each word is very different. This connotative statement forms a clear picture for English-speaking readers:

Oblivious to those around him, the father tenderly smiled at his newborn baby through the window of the hospital nursery.

Global branding is complex and can be done well by following these important steps:

  • Analyze each market to gauge interest in your product
  • Introduce your product by targeting each country, culture and language
  • Allow native speakers and writers to develop communications

Have you had success or failure with a global branding campaign? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.