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Applying lessons from global advertising to online marketing

Learn how you apply advertising techniques from the world biggest advertisers to your online marketing
Neil Payne

/ Last updated on 30th October 2017

Advertising displays and billboards in Time Square, New York at night

Selling your goods or services abroad isn’t quite as simple as just making your product available to purchase and waiting for the sales to come along.  It’s always important that you research new markets you are aiming your product towards including finding out more about the culture of the consumers you are focusing on.

Related: 5 pillars to successful email marketing

It’s a fact that culture affects everything that we do and conducting business online is most definitely not immune to this. Cultural differences have to be overcome if you are to be successful because the simplest of mistakes can be made that can have an adverse effect on your business.

Understanding the impact of culture upon advertising and marketing, whether traditional or online,  is so important because even if you are dealing with an already successful product in your own market, you’re about to enter a completely new ball game. The methods, platforms, messages, visuals and language that you’ve used to successfully launch your product at home aren’t necessarily going to be successful in the new market; in fact, they might be a total failure.

The key aim of a successful advertising or marketing campaign is to convince your new audience that your product is meant for them. ‘Buy our product, and you’ll receive some benefit by doing so’. But how do you do that in this new, foreign, market?

You need to carry out research to find out more about the culture of the country that you’re targeting your product towards. By doing so, you’ll be able to find out what changes need to be made to adapt to possibly different values and perceptions as to what will benefit the purchaser of your product.

Looking at issues that have come out of global advertising and marketing is a great way of illustrating how things can go wrong and what marketers should look out for.

Beware of language

First off, language is really important because a lack of research can leave you open to major mistakes.  Ford famously had problems introducing the Ford Pinto into Brazil. Why? ‘Pinto’ meant ‘tiny male genitals’ in that part of the world. This is one of the 10s of examples of companies launching advertising campaigns without even understanding the local language. Always make sure you translate content and adapt it to the specific market.

The meaning of colours

The colours that you use also have to be considered when dealing with different cultures. For example, in Europe, the colour red is usually associated with danger but in Eastern countries means prosperity and good fortune while in South Africa it’s used as a colour for mourning.  In Europe white is associated with purity and angels, but in China and Cambodia, it’s associated with death. Knowledge of this nature can prevent cultural errors being made. Be aware of colours on your website and how this may be interpreted.

Lucky numbers

It’s the same with numbers, for example, Nippon Airways in Japan omit seat numbers 4 or 9 because they have bad luck associated with them. Using lucky numbers from cultures can also give your advertising campaign a healthy boost in terms of the reception it gets.  For example in East Asia, the number 2 is seen as lucky as it denotes ‘double the happiness’.  In China, the number 8 is about as auspicious as you can get. How do the numbers come across on your website?

Image choices

As for images, an advertiser needs to think about cultural, religious and political considerations. If running an advert in Saudi Arabia would you entertain five-pointed stars, girls in bikinis or someone showing the soles of their feet?  If you did you would be headed for disaster. Think through the images you use and be willing to adapt them as IKEA did for its Saudi catalogue.

These are but a few examples of how and where culture has impacted advertising and marketing when carried out internationally. It illustrates how careful web designers and online marketers need to be with their efforts within the digital space, especially when it’s international.

Related: The ABC guide to social media marketing

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