As consumers around the world become more digitally connected to the Internet, this has resulted in online marketing becoming an essential part of global brand strategy.

The knowledge that consumers turn to mobile and online search engines to find information on potential purchases mean that brands are constantly running fresh advertising campaigns to attract consumers. 

Many of these countries don’t share the same primary language and local culture, requiring localisation in terms of processes, products, and marketing content.

With this being said, there are many “dos and don’ts” that marketers should be aware of before starting their campaigns.

We’ve asked some local experts across Asia, from Philippines to Japan and Indonesia, for examples of campaigns and basic etiquette to follow or avoid.

After all, you don’t want to embarrass your brand, or worse, cause your brand to have to exit the market!

Marketing in Indonesia: Be Conservative Contribution by Sugeng Hariyanto

Bali Indonesia

In general, Indonesians have a strong relationship with their family members. They value their family above anything else. That is why many youths choose to live with their parents even after they are financially independent.  

This family-first attitude also permeates the working culture in Indonesia, where family-friendly advertisements and businesses reign.

There are marketing campaigns that were protested by locals, or downright blacklisted, for cultural reasons.

For example, in 2013, a campaign from Lifebuoy, a brand of soap marketed by Unilever, was criticised heavily by East Nusa Tenggara Province residents who saw the ad as poverty exploitation for corporate gains.

A 2018 marketing campaign by Shopee, an e-commerce platform from Singapore, had their ad featuring BlackPink, the K-pop girl group, stopped by KPI (Indonesian Broadcasting Committee) because it was considered indecent and against the local cultural norms.

In response, Shopee revised their strategy for 2019, garnering much better reviews in the conservative country.

Marketing in Philippines: Be Culturally and Socially Sensitive Contribution by Sheila Salcedo

Cebu Beach

As with Indonesia (above), The Philippines is also considered to be a conservative country. It is recommended to be cautious in both casual and business settings to avoid offending anyone.

For instance, men should wait for women to extend their hand for a handshake.

Advertisements with sexual innuendos are also frowned upon. There were some heavily criticised advertisements in the country due to their content.

These commercials were eventually banned for promoting bad behaviour, being culturally insensitive and socially inappropriate.

Advertisers should consider cultural and social customs when creating advertisements to avoid these mistakes in the future.

  1. Napoleon Quince is an alcohol brand that launched an ad in 2004 - “Nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos” - which translates to “Have you have tried/tasted a 15-year-old?”. It was controversial for insinuating sexual innuendo involving a minor. The underlying message was illegal as it included a minor. A petition was filed to the Advertisement Board of the Philippines to have all the billboards removed.
  2. McDonald’s 2002 commercial showing a dad giving his daughter French fries under the table so that she would favour him over the mother. The commercial was criticized for encouraging bribery and dishonesty to gain desired results. It was eventually pulled off from being played on TV.
  3. EQ diaper commercial in 2013 shows Lapu-Lapu (a Filipino hero) fighting Magellan (a Portuguese explorer who converted natives to Christianity) because he disliked the diapers he gave him. Members of National Historical commission and people of Lapu-Lapu City (named after the hero) condemned the commercial for making a mockery of the history.

Marketing in Japan: Follow JARO Guidelines Contribution by Yasuko Kamada


In Japan, there are many traditions when it comes to doing business. If you are hosting someone for business dinners, for example, you need to keep in mind the following:

  1. It is recommended to offer choices from a local restaurant that serves the best meat or fish dish. As most Japanese are turning to vegan or vegetarian dining options, suggesting Japanese vegan restaurants or Shojin Ryori will always be a welcomed option for your guests.
  2. At the end of the meal, you should suggest moving to a secondary drinking place if your guests prefer alcohol.
  3. Then, the end of the night should come with one light “closing” meal like a ramen shop or a light noodle stand to thank them for the day.
  4. To end the evening after a hearty meal, you can also take your guests to a Kissaten, a traditional Japanese coffee shop that provides a cosy and relaxed environment.

If your guests are coming with family, such as a spouse and/or children, this should be preceded by a children-friendly plan for the entire family.

It is generally advised for marketers and advertisers to follow the JARO (Japan Advertising Review Organization) guidelines, as consumers can submit complaints through the organisation. The advertising review principles include:

JARO Guidelines
Source: JARO website

From these examples, we can see that it’s not just the language barrier that separates countries’ marketing campaigns. Different countries have unique cultural norms, traditions and language requirements. It is important for foreign brands to understand these norms when planning their marketing and branding campaigns, to avoid wasting resources, and more importantly, ruining customer goodwill. 

There is no ‘one-size-fits all’ solution when it comes to engaging and marketing to customers in these Asia Pacific countries.

To take your brand to the next level, local teams with expert experience are needed, and this starts with transcreation (creative translation) and localisation of your marketing and advertising campaigns into the language of your target audience.

This is where the local language content is tailored to the customers, with the end-goal of building engagement and a call-to-action (CTA).

Stay tuned for Part 2 next month, where we cover failed campaigns and sharing more local tips when marketing and advertising to customers in China, Korea and Thailand!