Category Opinions

‘Eat your fingers off’: Getting Marketing Right Abroad


KFC and the poorly translated slogan

You’re finally on holiday after the last few hectic months at work. Well-deserved you feel. Maybe you’ll let yourself go a bit, treat yourself to a bag of Walkers Ready Salted crisps while you sit by the pool, soaking up the sun.

But what’s this? You see a crisp packet that looks almost identical to that familiar brand you have so often seen Gary Lineker shamelessly promoting however; these crisps go by the name of Lays Potato Chips.

Are these the same great tasting crisps I’m used to, you ask? Can I stick with these home-comfort crisps or am I taking the risk of trying something new?

Well, you will be pleased to know that they are part of the same brand and should taste almost identical. Likewise, it may also interest you that Walkers crisps go by the name of Smith’s in Australia, Chipsy in Egypt and Sabritas in Mexico. They are all part of the US manufacturer Frito-Lays and are not the only company to change their product name in accordance with the country they market in.

Most of the time this is simply a marketing technique, but far from wanting to deliberately confuse you, in theory, this should have been a well-considered strategy designed to appeal to the target demographic. Occasionally, these changes are purely and simply down to trademarking issues and sometimes there appears to be no reason at all.

Lynx Deodorant for example, known nationwide as the preferred scent of sweaty 16 year old boys (unsurprising when their marketing campaigns show what a draw to women they can be with one spray) had to change their name in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand because of trademark problems. However, they maintain the same product design all the way through their packaging, right down to the font used in the logos.

So why do some companies bother to change their name?

The importance of translation within marketing abroad The Lynx Rebrand with Axe







 A rose by any other marketing name…

Well, a lot of brands don’t and avoid any hassle and confusion by keeping their product names the same. Audi are a brilliant example of this and have not only kept their name the same throughout the world, but have also maintained their tag-line ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’.

Changing a brand name, however, can often mean reaching a larger audience. The change might include translating the name or slogan into the necessary language or altering it to (hopefully) reflect the culture of the country. But not only do countries vary by trend and opinion, a brand must also take into account religious views, cultural and dialectal differences and grammatical changes when marketing themselves / their product or service. Unfortunately this often means a brand name or slogan can get lost in translation.

Remember the huge success of the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign in America from The Dairy Association? The campaign wasn’t even aired in the UK and yet most of us know of it. Because of the obvious success of the campaign, The Dairy Association felt it was time to expand into Mexico with the same slogan. They should have done their research though, as a nearly catastrophic translation could have caused far more harm than good as it was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read ‘Are you lactating?’ Possibly not the message they wanted to convey…

It would be right to assume that these larger companies would have completed their research thoroughly but no, it seems the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign is merely the tip of the iceberg.

When KFC entered the Chinese market, their famous ‘Finger lickin’ good’ marketing slogan unfortunately translated to ‘eat your fingers off’. Despite this initial issue, KFC still grew to become the most popular foreign food outlet in China. Well as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Most of the problems caused by cross-cultural clashes are the result of failures by the marketing team to recognise and account for the differences in culture and language.

Occasionally, a brand will even revert back to the original name or the name it uses in the country where it was first launched. What ever happened to Marathon chocolate bars? Well as part of a Mars’ brand standardisation strategy, the Marathon bar became ‘Snickers’ which we are all now very familiar with. This is thanks in part to the extensive marketing campaign that went with the change.

So it works both ways. A change in name or slogan can be necessary when facing cultural, religious or translation differences. It can ensure a product reaches its target worldwide. However, the very same reasons can also have the opposite effect and cause a brand to implement damage control if they have not carried out their research.

So what does all this mean? You know that famous Shakespeare quote: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – when it comes to marketing, well it’s not always true!


Sarah Meakins – Junior Account Manager