Intercultural Branding: Successes and Failures

In our latest chapter of discussing branding and the different things a company needs to consider when building one, we’re going to talk about the topic of intercultural branding—what it is, how companies have succeeded at implementing it, and the failures and embarrassments suffered by others–this should serve to help businesses avoid future mishaps.

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Intercultural branding isn’t uncommon. Any business targeting international customers has to make sure that its logos, slogans, and marketing plans will work in different countries without offending or confusing the locals.

Why Does Branding Need to Be Different in Other Countries?

When talking about cultures around the world, it’s important to note that there are “me” cultures and “we” cultures.

So while one company might do well marketing something that will make its consumer stand out from the crowd as an individual here in the U.S., there are other places across the globe that tend to focus more on a team or group mentality.

In other words, Instead of focusing on oneself and the betterment of one person, these cultures will place higher value on the collective success of society as a whole.

Rework Branding

Companies may need to rework their branding and marketing strategies in order to appeal to more than one cultural dynamic.

Companies need to also pay mind to the way things will be interpreted. Ignoring cultural cues and being faced with language barriers are two things that spell inevitable failure when talking about intercultural branding. Let’s take a look at a few examples of branding failures as well as some successes.

Intercultural Branding Missteps

Ignoring cultural cues is a big deal. For example, Kellogg’s cereal saw that there could be a lot of money to be made if they were marketing their cereals in India. Unfortunately, they failed to pay attention to the fact that in India, vegetables were a much more common breakfast than cereal.

This meant that in addition to simply marketing its cereals, Kellogg’s also had to market the idea of having cereal at all for breakfast. It’s not that Kellogg’s had to beat out competition from other cereal manufacturers, but it had to win people over and get them to choose a sweet breakfast instead of the traditional savory one.

While the brand expansion to India didn’t entirely fail, Kellogg’s  had to do a lot more work than they had initially intended, as then they had to market the mere concept of breakfast meaning “a time to eat cereal,” and not just “buy Kellogg’s cereal.”


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Interestingly, they haven’t been the only company to flop when trying to appeal to India’s consumers.

Other Failed Attempts

Mercedes-Benz attempted, but offered a model older than the one available in Europe to Indian people. Obviously, consumers weren’t buying it.

MTV also had to readjust their efforts when bringing the channel overseas. The network’s intent was to bring Western music like rock, rap, and pop to the country, but the masses were not interested. Now, their policy overseas includes more local genres of music.

United Airlines botched it as well, when using white carnations in advertisements in Honk Kong that celebrated a new flying route. In Hong Kong, white is a color traditionally associated with funerals–attaching it to imagery about flying in a plane? Not good.

Obviously, there are more, but there are also some brands that didn’t fail. As far as language barriers, there have been several incidents of something being incorrectly interpreted when read in a different language, but perhaps the most notorious was with Chevy.


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Though the company’s Nova model sold well in Latin America, the name of the car was misinterpreted as meaning “No va” or “it doesn’t go,” which isn’t great marketing for a car.

Another language blunder comes from the “Got Milk?” campaigns, which when translated into Spanish (tienes leche?), the question can be understood as “are you lactating?” Again, not quite what the company was going for.

Failure Isn’t Inevitable, But Success Takes More Work

Naturally, not every brand has failed at taking their brand worldwide. The key to doing so successfully hinges on how well a brand/company adapts to the new market demands.

For example, McDonald’s enjoys continuous success all over the world, thanks to its ability to adapt. In different countries, the menu changes to cater to what locals are used to. For example, a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast might include cucumbers tomatoes, cheese, and olives, which McDonald’s pairs with its customary omelet and English muffin to make up the Turkish breakfast menu.

In Israel, they offer the McFalafel, and in France, chocolate mousse. Hawaii enjoys Spam and eggs, while Chile gets empanadas. Their goal—providing fast, inexpensive food—is the same the world over, but the offerings are tailored to what their customers will want to eat.


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Other successful global brands include Sony, Nike, and Pampers—things that many people, regardless of country culture, use. Disney also has a strong international presence, appealing to people of all walks of life.

Apple does well, also, since their products appeal to both companies and individuals, but also to people who both want something that’s easy to use and something that offers cutting edge design. Apple’s reach is expansive, which is how they stay so successful across the world.

What Should Companies Do to Avoid Failure?

Companies need to take into account what their global markets want and expect from new competing brands. This means taking into account what the culture’s values are, what the income is like in a particular country, and whether there is the need for the product or service being offered.

They will usually need to come up with different ways to market to different groups of people. Understanding foreign markets and foreign clients is key to success, and should be studied intensely before making big business decisions to move into a new territory.

Making sure the other culture is completely understood before entering the market can save a lot of time, money, and frustration for businesses.  By fully comprehending what can go wrong, and business can be sure they’ll avoid making common intercultural branding mistakes.


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