Cross-Cultural Advertising

Cross-Cultural Advertising

By Sandra Bologna

Growing up, I recall colouring rainbows and horses with my classmates as we shared a box of Crayola crayons. I can still remember the colours today “Burnt Orange”, “Turquoise blue”, and “Aquamarine”. So when my five-year-old nephew took out a box of Crayola’s the other day and asked me to colour with him, I was all about using every colour in the box. Little did I know, Crayola has gone through some cultural changes over the years… it wasn’t until I asked him to pass over the “Indian Red” that he looked at me confused and handed over “Jazzberry Jam” instead… not a name I was familiar with, and clearly not the colour I needed to fill in the bark of my tree.

Marketing and advertising has evolved over the years with more sensitivity to culture, and more awareness to cultural diversity.

Know your markets

What is acceptable in one culture may be frowned upon in another. In 2003, Mattel Barbie dolls were outlawed in the Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia because the doll did not conform to the ideals of Islam. An alternative doll named Fulla was designed to be more acceptable to an Islamic market… though Fulla is not made by Mattel Corporation.

In Iran, Sara and Dara dolls are available as an alternative to Barbie and Ken. The Muslim dolls with modest clothing and pro-family backgrounds, have been developed by a government agency to promote traditional values.

Adapt your product

Don’t assume every country eats cold cereal. Even the slightest change to adapt your product can make a world of difference. When Kellogg’s started producing Cornflakes in India, they failed to realize that Indians start their day with something warm. Something cold, like cold milk on cereal, is considered a shock to the system. And like Homi Bhabha, an Indian cultural critic says “If you pour warm milk on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, they instantly turn into wet paper”. Kellogg’s ended up pulling their stocks from shelves and re-engineering Cornflakes so they’d stand up to warm milk.

Stay neutral

When marketing to the general public, try to stay neutral. Have your marketing and advertising material reviewed by cross-cultural specialists. This will ensure your advertisement does not offend a specific culture. In May 2008, Dunkin’ Donuts pulled an ad featuring Rachael Ray off the air because of outrage over the black and white scarf she wore in the commercial. Critics say the scarf looks like a Kaffiyeh, which is a type of scarf some think is now said to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Because of the controversy over the scarf, the Dunkin’ Donuts chain stopped airing the commercial.

Translate correctly

If your entire advertisement lies on language, make sure the translation is correct! A rather obvious tip known all too well by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently. Just this month, Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met to discuss a range of issues. As a kind gesture, Clinton handed Lavrov a gift – a “reset button” – which symbolized the Obama administration hoping to reset U.S. relations with Moscow… trouble was, the translation was wrong! The word on the button was “peregruzka”, which means “overloaded” or “overcharged”. The Russian word for reset is “perezagruzka”….Oops! Not exactly the meaning they were going for.

Did you know…

Other Crayola colours that were renamed:

Prussian Blue: In response to teachers’ requests, the name changed to Midnight Blue in 1958
Flesh: The name was voluntarily changed to “Peach” in 1962.


On August 12, 2010, posted in: Cross-Cultural Articles by