Cross-Cultural Advertising: How not to Get Lost in Translation


Did you know that Chevrolet Nova sold very poorly across the Spanish-speaking countries until it was found out that “No va” means “Doesn’t go” in Spanish? So, when the model was renamed, the sales went much better.

Well, it has been now revealed that the situation above didn’t take place in fact – it is used to demonstrate that business and advertising across different countries require very good preparation. The primary challenge is overcoming not just the language barrier, but also cross-cultural differences and figuring out how your campaign message can play out across various markets. Let’s see how famous brands handle this issue.


France – the only country where McDonald’s gay themed ads are ok

The theme of sexual orientation is very sensitive, and companies in most countries stay away from it in their ad campaigns, even though it may be tempting to attract attention with something bold and unexpected. Yet, McDonald’s takes the challenge – but does it in France, the country where gay-themed content is met without hatred or accusations.

Nevertheless, McDonald’s knows the American culture too well to air the ad in the USA, where it could receive tons of criticism.

Egypt – “Funny” McDonald’s ad with elements of domestic abuse

The romantic video of a couple in love turns into a violent action movie at its climax – just because of a piece of French fries. In Egypt, it is looks funny, but in the USA it might be considered as bizarre and probably accused of promoting violence.

Japan – a beautiful (or stomach-turning) Ronald McDonald ad

This commercial is totally ok for Japan. Nevertheless, in most European countries and the USA it evokes feelings from ridicule to repulsion, but surely has nothing in common with making the brand more popular.

Britain – McDonald’s using slave labor?

This touchy and honest spot is actually an 8-minute mini movie, addressing the most common criticisms made of McDonalds employment. Admitting the problem is the first step to solving it, but this type of ads would likely not be seen in the USA, where achievement and growth are promoted, rather than a kind of insecurity about oneself.

Coca Cola “Share a Coke” Campaign

USA Commercial

Coca Cola’s ads are usually very well accepted by the audience, and this spot is not an exception. The secret to success is, obviously, in tapping into the culture and striking the right emotional chord. For instance, the USA commercial above fosters the feeling of unity, festivity and fun, the drink being the key driver of these feelings, it also suggests that Coke can bring together opposite sexes and ignite love between them.

China Commercial

In the Chinese variant of the ad, however, the stress is on the community bonding, when Coke puts a stop to the war ready to begin. Here, there are no any seduction nuances, but instead, nationalistic elements and greater formality are felt, which correspond to the Chinese culture. Similarly, the ad features only he Chinese actors, while the USA spots usually show people of different nationalities, because its population is really diverse.

Wrapping up

So, the thorough preparation and research are a must to win over a new market. Be careful though not to fall prey to the popular stereotypes or misconceptions about the nation you are targeting, or you risk being very unwelcome there. It is best to hire experts who can provide the “insider” view of the culture and its peculiarities.

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