International Marketing: Avoid Blunders By Understanding Differences Around The Globe


When I was in college, one of my absolute favorite classes was International Marketing. It’s a big world out there and when marketing a product globally, companies must consider differences in culture, social structure, language and education. These differences have important implications for marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, marketing mistakes happen more often than you might think. Most brands can overcome their mistakes with a bit of damage control and good PR, however it can take time to rebuild your image. Let’s look at some international marketing blunders by companies that had to learn the hard way.


When Pepsi entered the Chinese Market, they launched their campaign with the slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life”. Unfortunately, they had a BIG language issue. They didn’t realize this translated to “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”. The bright side is that it certainly got people’s attention!

That wasn’t Pepsi’s only blunder. They lost a lot of market share to Coke in Southeast Asia when they changed their vending machine colors from dark blue to light blue. If they would have done their research, they would have discovered light blue was associated with death and mourning in that region.


When Gerber started selling their baby food in Africa, they continued to market with the same packaging used in the U.S. You know, the one with the cute baby on the front? What they didn’t know is that it’s frequent practice for companies in Africa to put pictures on the label of what is actually inside the packages, due to a large population of illiterate consumers.  Yikes! Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “So cute, I could eat you up”.

Proctor & Gamble

The company used a popular European commercial in Japan and it was not well-received. The commercial featured a woman bathing, when her husband enters the bathroom and touches/hugs her. Japanese consumers thought the commercial was an invasion of privacy and quite inappropriate.


When Coors entered the market in Spain, they saw no issue with using their slogan, “Turn it Loose”. Consumers however, were not thrilled that in Spanish the advertisement read, “Suffer from Diarrhea”. Perhaps they could have re-marketed as a competitor to Ex-lax?

Kentucky Fried Chicken

When their famous tagline “Finger-lickin Good” was translated into Chinese, it read, “Eat Your Fingers Off”. Needless to say, this wasn’t a hit. Further, KFC used chickens that were raised in China for their local stores. Since it’s customary to raise chickens on a diet of fish in China, the taste was much different than the chicken served in the U.S. KFC actually exited the market and did not return for about a decade.


When Pampers entered the market in Japan, they didn’t bother to research Japanese folklore. When trying to discover why sales were so low, they found that Japanese parents were very confused by the stork on their packaging. It turns out their version of the story includes babies being delivered by giant, floating peaches. Sounds comfortable and delicious!


When Pepsodent tried to sell their toothpaste, that promised white teeth, in Southeast Asia, they were surprised to learn that consumers weren’t remotely interested. It was quite the opposite, in fact. People in this part of the world actually chew betel nuts to attempt to blacken their teeth. This habit is viewed as a high-status symbol.

American Motors

When the company launched a new car named “The Matador”, they were confident it would be a success. Research showed the word means virility and excitement to English-speaking consumers. However, they ran into a bit of trouble when they introduced the car to Puerto Rico. They quickly learned that “Matador” was translated to “killer” in Spanish. Apparently, no one wanted to drive a car named “The Killer”. Who knew?

Sadly, these are just a handful of blunders from some of our favorite brands. It illustrates the importance of research, research, research! Consider all aspects of marketing your product or service, such as packaging, colors, logo, translation, and benefits to local consumers. It will be time-consuming on the front end, but will save countless dollars, unspeakable humiliation, and possible damage to brand reputation.

Any other famous, marketing mistakes come to mind? Please share below!

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