In our last post, we discussed how marketers in Indonesia, Philippines and Japan could avoid localisation fails for their marketing campaigns. From making inappropriate jokes with sexual innuendos to ignoring the importance of social norms, there are many hidden cultural norms that brands need to know to have successful marketing campaigns in these countries.

From failed advertisements to useful tips for brands when planning their global campaigns, we asked our local experts to share stories that go beyond generic advice.

In this post, we expand these stories to other countries, from Korea to Thailand and China.

Learn what are the to-dos and most importantly, big ‘no-nos’ when it comes to planning marketing campaigns in these countries.

Marketing in Korea: Don’t Disregard Brand Image Contribution by Jay Kwak

Lantern Korea

Korea is an attractive market for international companies, but sometimes famous brands have failed in the Korean market. Here are some representative examples of foreign companies' marketing failures in the Korean market: 

  1. Nestle is the world's No. 1 food company with over 100 trillion KRW in sales. It has acquired Blue Bottle and partnered with Starbucks to maintain its local market dominance. However, in December 2018, Nestle had to pull Café Nestle out of the Korean’s coffee market. Experts believe this unique partnership to be due to a deterioration in profitability due to rising labour costs and the failure to establish a proper consistent brand image in Korea.
  2. 'Wal-Mart', the world's No. 1 discount store, entered Korea after acquiring Korea Macro in July 1998. However, in 2006, eight years after the start of the business, the business ended by selling 16 stores to E-Mart. Experts cite localisation failure as the cause of the failure. While Korean consumers prefer bright and neat department store-style stores, Wal-Mart was a warehouse-type discount mart with lots of things stacked high.

Marketing in Thailand Contribution by Sunchai Diekratok-Marlet

Boats Thailand

There’s one example that summarises consumer attitudes in Thailand. In July 2013, there was a viral video that was harshly criticised by Thai public.

The content of the video is that a Thai actress named Aom Sushar throwing a tantrum at her fan club during an event. The video shocked the public, and it went viral. After several days, it was revealed that this video clip was a new commercial advertisement for Snickers, the American conglomerate. Although the background of such behaviour was disclosed, it was criticised badly for playing with customers’ feelings.

Of course, some believed that Snickers did not have the intention to deceive the public; they just tried to deliver its brand’s message: “You're Not You When You're Hungry.” This campaign was popular in many other global markets, but not in Thailand.

Instead, the brand ended up losing the trust of the Thai people. This was due to specific cultural reasons:

  1. In general, the Thai people feel that violence should not be used to make videos with an intention of it going viral.
  2. This campaign was hence seen as a cheap method to use the negative emotions of people to get consumers’ attention; this left the consumers feeling insulted and stupid.

Summing up, what may work in one market may not work in another market. Snickers should have localised or created a new campaign with the Thai culture and audiences in mind, instead of using the same campaign even though it was successful in other markets.

Marketing in China Contribution by IPPWORLD

Great Wall of China

Every day, there are examples of marketing fails in China by global brands.

Sometimes brands try to appeal to specific groups, but it proves counterproductive. For example, there are many symbolic characters in Chinese culture. These patterns are special because of the cultural meaning behind them, not the patterns themselves.

National culture is indeed a good entry point for advertisers, but it doesn’t work if there isn’t an accompanying story to show that the brand understands the culture it’s using.

The fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) is an example where cultural elements were used to cover up ignorance about the culture itself.

In 2018, in order to create momentum for its own brand’s runway show in Shanghai, Dolce & Gabbana produced a series of videos called “DG Loves China”.

The video is full of cultural elements that can be seen to define Chinese culture: red lanterns, a Chinese model dressed in red (but in a Western-style dress instead of Chinese), and Chinese calligraphy and painting in the background.

In the video, chopsticks, an important symbol in Chinese culture, are described as "stick-shaped tableware". These chopsticks were used as a prop to satirise the Chinese culture – the Chinese model is seen struggling to eat spaghetti (a traditionally Italian dish), needing to use chopsticks to do it.

The narration and tone were arrogant, insinuating that Chinese culture is inferior to Italian culture. Instead of starting from a place of curiosity and respect, D&G showed that it did not understand Chinese culture.

This advertisement eventually led to a total boycott of the brand by Chinese consumers, and the Shanghai Show was cancelled.

In these last two posts (read: Part 1 here), we have shared how important it is for global brand marketers to be careful and to be sensitive to the local cultures of the country they are selling in.

‘Marketing to Asia Pacific’ involves the inclusion of many different cultures and languages, so it’s important to know the nuances and possible pitfalls before starting your marketing campaign.

This also includes understanding the language used in each market. Having your campaigns speak in a language that resonates with your audience is one sure way to get the engagement and conversion you want.

However, you can’t just rely on a translation tool that only translates the words, and not the intended meaning behind the message of the campaign.

That’s what creative translation (or what we call Transcreation) is all about.

Having local experts and country teams will also help your brand to manage cultural traditions and localisation easier. This will make the difference between a failed or successful marketing campaign.