Cross-Culture Public Relations – It’s Not as Easy as It Looks

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Every public relations professional dreams of developing a campaign that puts his or her company’s tag line on the lips of the entire world. However, the tried and true rules of continuity, consistency, and even practicality don’t always apply when it comes to international or cross-culture campaigns.

Before you try to recycle your PR campaign in a foreign market, consider that you are dealing with a completely new audience with its own characteristics, ideals, and preconceived notions about what you’re selling. Industry experts recommend using a public relations or advertising agency that specializes in international campaigns. They will help you research your foreign markets thoroughly and appropriately, and tailor your campaign accordingly. The good agencies will also ensure that your campaign will invoke the desired response in your audience. A simple translation will usually not carry the same connotations in a foreign language as it does in American English.

You may find that your original campaign doesn’t need much adjustment and a direct translation would, in fact, be appropriate. However, the following PR legends illustrate the importance of making the extra effort. As you can see, the alternative could be disastrous to your international marketing and public relations efforts.

– GM officials in Canada were forced to develop a new name for a vehicle after discovering “LaCrosse” was a slang term for masturbation.

– GM officials have had similar experiences in the past. In the 1970s, GM exported its Chevrolet Nova to Mexico and Latin America, only to be told that “Nova” loosely translated into “doesn’t go”. Despite the name, which was not changed, the vehicle sold well.

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– The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Ke-kou-ke-la,” meaning “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax,” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent, “ko-kou-ko-le,” which translates into “happiness in the mouth.”

– Pepsi also had trouble in China with the slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation,” which translated into “Pepsi Brings your Ancestors Back from the Grave”.

– Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)’s experience in China has been fraught with a few obstacles. For example, the company’s slogan “finger-lickin’ good” was translated as “eat your fingers off.”

– A major toothpaste company introduced its product in France with the name “Cue,” the name of a controversial porno magazine.

– An American baby food company introduced its product in Africa using the traditional picture of a baby on the label. Later they discovered that products sold in Africa usually have a picture on the label of what’s inside, since many consumers can’t read.

– A T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish-speaking market that promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I Saw the Pope” (el Papa), the shirts read “I Saw the Potato” (la Papa).

– A curling iron called the “Mist Stick” was released in Germany, where the word “mist” is slang for “manure.”

– A Scandinavian company marketed their vacuum in America using the slogan, “Nothing Sucks Like Electrolux.”

– A major beer company directly translated their slogan “Turn it Loose” to Spanish, where it was understood as “Suffer from Diarrhea.”

– A slogan for chicken, “It Takes a Strong Man to Make a Tender Chicken,” was translated into Spanish as “It Takes an Aroused Man to Make a Chicken Affectionate.”

– In translating the slogan for a ballpoint pen, “It Won’t Leak in Your Pocket and Embarrass You,” the Spanish word embarazar, meaning to impregnate, was used instead of “embarrass.” The ad read, “It Won’t Leak in Your Pocket and Make You Pregnant.”

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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