In a global market place, thoroughly researching how campaigns will come across to other cultures is vital. This highlights a contradiction in globalization: although we are increasingly integrated into a unified global society, that society still consists of diverse cultures, languages, and value systems that need to be understood in their own terms.
Chevrolet is the fastest growing major automobile brand in the world. Despite its “American Pie” roots, however, most Chevrolet cars are purchased from outside North America, which has increased from 27% to 65% of total sales in the last 10 years. Their new campaign, “Find New Roads,” aims to reflect this trend, and appeal to a global audience. It replaces the widely criticized “Chevy Runs Deep” slogan, which tried to capitalize on their longstanding immersion in American culture.
Chevrolet’s new campaign shows an attempt to revaluate itself from a global perspective. The brand has in the past been able to translate its core message effectively for different cultural audiences. The advertising jingle was at one time “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pies and Chevrolet”, exemplifying all that is Americana. When marketing to South Africa, however, this appropriately became, “Braaivleis, Rugby, Sunny Skies and Chevrolet”.
This sensitivity is a far cry from their infamous faux pas made years ago. Chevrolet tried to market the Chevy Nova in Mexico, but unfortunately in Spanish, “No va” means “it doesn’t go”. Unsurprisingly, the model did not sell. These kinds of stories are not unusual in a globalised market place, often to humorous effect:
- The widely popular “Got Milk?” campaign, when presented in Mexico, was translated into “Are you Lactating?”
- Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as, “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.
- The wording of one Pepsi Generation ad campaign in China apparently claimed the soda could “Bring your ancestors back from the dead”. In Germany the same ad was translated into “Rise from the Grave with Pepsi.”
- The Chinese characters originally used to translate Coca-Cola, at first had meanings like “Bite the wax tadpole,” or “Wax-flattened mare”. Finally, “Kekou Kele” was settled on, meaning “Delicious in your mouth”.
- In Germany, the word “latte” translates into erection. Starbucks has had to remove several advertisements in German stores offering a “morning latte break”.
- In Chinese, the direct translation of KFC’s slogan, “Finger Licking Good,” is “Eat Your Fingers Off”.
- In many third world countries where the majority of the population is illiterate, it is common practice to place a picture of what the product contains on the packaging. When missionaries donated Gerber Baby Food to tribes in Africa, the tribes’ people were horrified upon seeing the jars of ‘baby food’. They had a similar aversion to ‘pet food’.
- Only after Ford sent many Pintos to South America and spent a considerable amount marketing it, was it realised that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals”. Even after Ford substituted Corcel as the new title, meaning “horse”, people were still uncomfortable to be seen driving them.
With the rise in global campaigns, translating a product’s catchphrase isn’t enough. A different culture needs to be understood. As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language – that goes to his heart.”
Terence Stoker is a Branding expert and lover of SUVs. When not writing, he can be found exploring back roads in his beloved Chevy Trailblazer