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Marketing and Branding Bloopers-How to avoid them

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Why do branding bloopers happen?
Today’s businesses are globally interconnected and interdependent. Multinational companies and business conglomerates produce their products in low-cost manufacturing regional hubs and export them to various geographies across the globe. Ford, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, Tesco, Apple, Sony, Samsung, and Tata are a few household names which meet the above descriptions. However, the above business dynamics create situations which give scope for marketing and branding blunders to be committed. Some of the key contributing factors identified by marketing analysts are as follows:
Interplay between cultures and languages.
This interplay between organizations and customers who are required to communicate and interact using multiple languages some times create branding nightmares and bloopers which cost organizations ‘loss of face’ and also cause ‘loss of revenue’.
Hub and Spoke Model
In order to gain from economies of scale and procure and manufacture products at the lowest possible input cost, organizations take the hub and spoke approach to manufacturing and production. Different parts of the product manufacturing life cycle, such as product designing, prototyping, sourcing and procuring of raw materials, manufacturing, and marketing and sales are more likely to be based in different geographical locations. Most of the time this involves employees who hail from different countries and cultures working together with a common aim of meeting the expectations set by their company brand in the market. Sometimes there is an inability to understand and bridge cultural differences which exist between the company headquarters and the end market where the goods have to be sold, and this leads to bloopers.
Advertisements which are refreshingly different but insensitive
In an honest attempt to stand out from the crowd and be different to grab and retain attention of customers, brand buildingsometimes becomes offensive.
Advertisements make dishonest claims
In today’s networked and overwhelmingly connected world, companies should take extra care to edit and project information which is factually correct. Only those claims should be advertised which can be proved, if challenged. If this rule of thumb is ignored, a company faces the risk of being ridiculed and its integrity being challenged.
Examples of Marketing and Branding goof-ups
Brand building is steeped in examples of those that have gone on to be winners and others that have literally cost billions in losses.
Ford Motors got it horribly wrong in this Feb. 2013 advertisement:
In February of 2013, an illustrated poster showing pictures of Ford’s Figo model were making the rounds on the internet. This poster featured a grinning former prime minister of Italy in the front seat of the Figo, holding up a victory sign. The revolting aspect was that three scantily clad women were shown gagged and bound, crying in the boot of the same car.The agency which created this copy claimed that this advertisement was supposed to indicate the big boot space that a small car like Figo is provided with. Given the spate of horrific crime on women that was being reported in the Indian media around that time, this poster was derided by one and all. While this advertisement was never officially used by Ford, it still had to publicly denounce the idea and had to clarify that Ford had not given the go-ahead for this illustration and that the branding agency it worked with was to be blamed for the fiasco.
General Motors/Chevrolet
Chevrolet introduced a new model of car in Mexico branded as “NOVA” which branding experts intended to mean “new and invigorating”. But Chevy struggled to get these models out of its dealership showrooms. This model was a running success for Chevy in other geographies already and this prompted Chevy to investigate the sluggish sales. Chevy found out to its chagrin that “Nova” in Spanish meant “Doesn’t Go”.
Continuing with examples from the auto industry, here are a few more advertisement bloopers
Honda: Is it Jazz or is it Fitta
The Japanese car maker had a winner on its hand with the model ‘Honda Fitta’. This was a run-away success in Asia and the US. Honda released the model with the same branding in Europe as well, but was then forced to rebrand within three months of the launch there, since ‘fitta’ meant a femalesex organ in the Swedish and Norwegian languages. Honda tried to undo this costly mistake by rebranding the model as the ‘Jazz’ in Europe.
Here are more examples of branding fiascos from other industries:
Touch the Dictionary
In late 2012 a Korean company released a mobile phone compatible online e-dictionary and English learning application. The name they used for their product during its soft launch was ‘Touch Dic’, with ‘Dic’ being the short form for dictionary. Just before the official launch, better sense prevailed and the company re-branded this tool as ‘Touch Dictionary’.Ikea and its speedy idea
Ikea typically retains its Swedish origin names when it markets it products outside Europe. It introduced a work desk into the US market with its original Swedish origin name ‘Fartful’, which means ‘speedy’ in Swedish. Needless to say Ikea found this $103 per unit desk slow moving in the American market.
Coca-Cola
Way back in 1928 Coca-Cola entered the Chinese market with its branding of ‘Ko-ka-Ko-la’ in Mandarin since it rhymed and sounded similar to its English origin brand. Chinese shopkeepers translated the same to Mandarin and came up with sign boards reading “bite the wax tadpole”. In short order Coca-Cola was forced to re-brand and came up with ‘Ke-kou-ke-le’ which when translated to mandarin meant “To allow the mouth to be able to rejoice.”
Pizza Hut
One more example of a blooper from a food and beverages major was from Pizza Hut. In the early 90’s, it launched Pizzas with less calories, calling them P’Zone. It was pronounced like pozon which rhymed with the Spanish word for ‘nipple’. Pizza Hut struggled to get customers in parts of Canada and other Spanish speaking states to embrace this product.Best practices to overcome these bloopers One definite way of avoiding such embarrassments and set-backs is for companies to task their marketing and branding teams to follow a set of checklists.
First: Involve culturally sensitive and aware professionals into the branding activities. Ideally these professionals should have knowledge of the local practices and beliefs of the target geography/country into which the product is being released.
Second: Engage third party agencies which are local to the target market geography to advise an in-house marketing team on sensitive religious or cultural minefields to avoid.What may seem like a great artistic flourish to a western marketing executive might end up hurting religious or cultural sentiments of some customers they are trying to woo. A classic illustration of an advertisement which hurt religious sensitivities was a newspaper advertisement from Adidas picturing popular Goddesses on its tee-shirts in India. This advertisement campaign drew negative feedback from the local Indian press and Adidas had to apologise and withdraw the advertisements.
Three: Organizations should leverage social media more proactively to do trial runs of intending advertisement campaigns in country-specific websites and forums. They should then follow this up by seeking and capturing customer views/feedback and accordingly tweak marketing content and messaging. A good example of this was the launch of a new model of Samsung mobile phone in the Indian market in early March of 2013. Samsung created a separate page on its India-specific facebook profile to promote the new model of this cell phone. The profile included interactive video clips which enabled Indian customers to add their ideas to existing videos. Samsung thus leveraged social media to do a preview of their advertisement campaign and used what was revealed to come up with appropriate country-specific advertisement campaigns which were relevant and appealing to Indian television and print media customers.
Expert Speak
While innovative and out-of-the-ordinary advertisements are called for in today’s cluttered media space to attract and retain customer attention, copywriters and, more so, brand managers have to be conscious of the target markets’ cultural sensitivities. They also need to stay true to the ethical and moral standards that their brand represents.
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