How to Avoid Global Marketing Localization Fails


Your brand, your products and services are the identity of your company; you’ve worked hard to create an excellent reputation and a recognized brand name. Now you’re ready to enter the international market. Before entering the global market, it’s important to thoroughly research the language, customs and culture of your targeted audience. Failure to localize your product layout or translation can lead to blunders that could cost your company significant market share and create a PR nightmare. 


Back in April 2012, Unilever of Germany created a campaign for food products using the English tagline “Fuck the Diet,” believing that the F-word had become German slang for “let it be.” 

Unfortunately, Unilever isn’t the only multinational organization to make such a marketing localization failure. Many multinational companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have created marketing fails with their products and services. For example, KFC once ran a marketing campaign in China using a translation for “finger-lickin’ good” that turned out to be a cannibalistic term in Chinese. 


HBSC Bank offers us another example of failure to localize their service. In 2009, the bank developed a campaign slogan in the U.S. “Assume Nothing.” The bank took this exact phrase and had it translated into different languages. Problems then developed when their marketing messages translated as “Do Nothing” in many languages. HSBC then had to completely rebrand its private banking services, costing the company about $10 million in the process. They eventually used the phrase “The world’s private bank,” which happily translated well into most languages. 


A Happy Accident

Let’s take one more look at another company’s overseas experience. Starbucks opened their stores in Germany and they served lattes—the same served in their U.S. and European stores. However, the company failed to realize that “latte” is a highly inappropriate term in German. 


“Latte” translates as the word “pole,” which in German slang is a reference to a male’s private part. Even with this translation and localization fail, Starbucks enjoyed a “happy accident.” The German people responded to the company’s gaffe with humor and embraced this new drink, causing it to become a major success for Starbucks. 


Tips to Avoid Marketing Localization Fails

After reading these marketing localization failure stories, you’ll understand the need to ensure your marketing materials are properly translated and localized to your intended international market(s). How do you avoid these major failures?


The best advice is to hire a translation agency, which offers a team of highly qualified linguists who are native speakers in the country you plan to target. You’ll often find a translation company not only offers translation services, but also localization services for all of your marketing materials. 

In addition, you should consider a translation company that provides transcreation expertise to help you get your marketing campaign and your company noticed in the right way. Transcreation is the process of adapting a message from one language into another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. Your message will induce the same emotions and implications from the original language in to the target language. 


A good translation company will help you overcome language and cultural barriers with full translation and localization services. By working with such a company, you’ll avoid embarrassing and costly marketing mistakes as you reach out to the global market.

Tags: language localization

Ahmed Gazzar

Business Development Manager


Ahmed is known for his in depth understanding of business technology interface for the field of translation and localization services. He works to ensure that clients’ needs align with the services being provided. With a Licentiate Law degree from Cairo University, he has been instrumental in establishing Lexicon’s business strategies and growth.