3 International Marketing Blunders You Shouldn’t Forget

International Marketing Blunders

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles on Freedigitalphotos.net

As our world becomes more and more globalized, it seems that the need for businesses to expand, localize, and broaden their horizons is forever changing.  Nowadays, businesses need to be aware of the impact that their products are making around the world as well as how they are received by locals.  International marketing is where many of these things come together.  In international marketers really need to consider a number of factors and think outside of the traditional market that they have been working within.  International marketing practices are essential to international business now.  Read below for three examples of international marketing blunders.

1.) United Arab Emirates (UAE):

The setting: In 2011, Puma, a German sports gear and apparel company, decided that it was going to launch a shoe in the United Arab Emirates with the colors of the national flag.

The problem(s): One of the major problems to start is that feet (i.e. uncleaned feet, like shoes) are considered to be unclean in Islam. In fact, there is a passage in the Quran that mandates Muslims to wash their feet before offering As-Salat, or prayers (Sura 5:6).  This is the same reason why they remove their shoes before entering their homes and/or the mosque.  This is not just a religious thing though, this also occurs in other Asian and African cultures where Islam is not as strong.

The message: Obviously, Puma did not intend to offend the Emirati people.  However, placing the colors of the national flag on their feet was seen as ‘walking on their flag’.  Thus, associating their colors with the lowest of insults.


2.) Australia:

The setting: In 1997, Dr. Pepper attempted to enter the Australian soft drink market.

The problem(s): Dr. Pepper was almost universally unaccepted by Australians.  They did not like the taste at all and the products didn’t sell.  Although, in recent years, Dr. Pepper has been reintroduced on a smaller scale, it still isn’t as popular in Australia as it is in America.

The message: Taste buds change around the world! Just because people are similar does not mean that they like the same stuff. Simply assuming they would enjoy something can be a costly mistake as we have seen with Dr. Pepper.  Therefore, before jumping into a new market, market assessment and testing needs to occur.  It might save you some money.


3.) China:

The setting:  In 2004, Nike decided to run a LeBron James advertisement in mainland China.  The commercial depicted LeBron defeating traditionally dressed Chinese elders, women, and even a dragon.

Image courtesy of Seaskylab from Freedigitalphotos.net.

The problem(s): Although China is rapidly developing, many Chinese people are still quite traditional.  Their traditions and culture is ancient and many people still hold its traits to high esteem.  Dragons, typically seen only as a mythical figure to westerners, symbolize things like power, strength, and luck in China.  In addition, elders hold a high sense of respect and authority.  These aspects, among others, are reasons why culture mattered in this case.

The message: Ultimately, the message that people received would change per person; however, enough people were offended by the ‘weakening’ of their strong traditional figures that the ad received negative publicity, something you don’t want as a marketer.

The video:


What do you think!

Are you interested in international business? Have you heard about other international marketing blunders and realize how important culture even in a business setting? Leave me a comment below letting me know your thoughts.  


Hey there amigo! Did you enjoy reading my article on international marketing blunders?  If you did and think that others will too, please take a moment to connect with me on social media. I’d appreciate it! (Facebook here)


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  1. here is one more example for you. i read this in a economics book a while ago but Disney land or Disney world (one of the Disney company i don’t remember which one exactly) when they first opened in Europe they went bankrupt because they were running the company like they were to do it in the U.S. and they didn’t serve alcohol which for european was a big thing to be able to drink a few beer or wine over lunch or dinner.

  2. I didn’t know about that one. I am going to have to add it to the list and do some research about it.

  3. Excellent article Andy. Reminds me of my field, translation and localization. People think that a simple Google translate widget on their website will be perfect to attract international consumers — WRONG!

    There are several things to take into consideration when trying to penetrate an international market. This includes, but not limited to, the design/look and feel of your website, changing colors and even images of people. also, taking into consideration cultural connotations and other nuances when translating content — not everything can be directly translated and for a good reason.

    – Maria Alexandra (the nomadic translator)

    • Thanks Maria! So, true, translation does not always equal translation of meaning. There are so many different ways to say something and each language has its own unique way. I think it is those little things that you mention, such as colors or images, that go along way with different cultures. Meanings can change quite drastically around the world. I appreciate your comment, glad to connect with you!

  4. Some very interesting points here Andy. I know that I certainly don’t like Dr Pepper either. There is also this big thing about is Brits liking tea yet we really don’t like Iced Tea which is very popular in the US. Lipton periodically have marketing campaigns with it but it is a failure everytime.
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  5. Thank you. I’ll make sure to avoid these blunders from now on!

  6. That basketball commercial is nuts… I don’t think anybody would understand what they are trying to sell.
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