How Marketing Techniques Differ Geographically

When creating a digital marketing campaign for your brand, you probably realize that it’s not just local consumers that may be seeing your message. People from across the world may see it, too. If the campaign is designed for your local audience, it’s OK to cater to them. But if you’re creating a campaign to go internationally, you must recognize the global differences in linguistics, body language, etc. and how they impact your message.

Cultural Blunders We Won’t Forget

We live in a digitally interconnected world, which certainly has its benefits. Rather than selling your product or service to those in your city, state or country, you can sell to anyone who has an interest or need for it. At the same time, it’s possible that the message you have for your customers back home won’t translate the same overseas.

Many brands have had their fair share of cultural blunders. In the late 1980s, KFC took their “Finger-lickin good” slogan to China, but it translated to the less appealing “Eat your fingers off.” Pepsi had a similar experience when they marketed to China with the slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life.” Unfortunately, the phrase translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Whoops.

It’s not just trouble with translation that can happen. In Africa, for example, many people cannot read, so any pictures on packaging generally indicates what’s inside. When Gerber marketed their baby food products in Africa with the adorable picture of the Gerber baby on the front, well, you get the picture.

What these examples teach us is that any international campaign needs to be well-thought-out. If it’s not, it could be devastating for the entire brand, not just the single campaign. Generally, it’s linguistic errors that get brands into trouble, but it could also be different meanings in body gestures, humor, color and cultural values.

Making Your Global Campaign Successful

If you plan on taking your campaign globally, here is what you need to succeed.

  • Do your research. You can learn a lot by reading articles online or in travel books. For instance, in Asian countries, holding eye contact for too long is considered impolite. In Canada, however, eye contact is used to show respect and interest.  

  • Choose a brand mission. Ideally, your brand mission should stem from a universal human emotion, such as optimism, inspiration or peace. It’s the best way to tap into people’s emotions in an authentic and genuine way.

  • Hire a cross-cultural marketer. While you may be compelled to work with your current team, outsourcing your needs may be ideal in this instance. Look for a cross-cultural marketer who has a deep understanding of cultural differences. They can help you rewrite your current copy for your new audience.

  • Work with a translator. A translator will make sure that your message translates appropriately. They are not responsible to edit your marketing message to fit your audience, however. This is why you still need a qualified marketer.

  • Know your channels. Just because your audience back home engages with you on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t mean they will in other countries. Know which channels you plan to use to promote your campaign.

Why Things Go Wrong

Not all multicultural campaigns are successful. It’s hard enough to launch successful campaigns in the US where you know your audience and which types of messaging makes them tick. The thing is, however, it’s probably easier to do damage control with your local customers. Brands sometimes get things wrong, but it doesn’t usually put the brand out of business.

In another country, you’re making your first impression. If it comes off as being rude, aggressive or offensive, your reputation will be damaged. It’s very difficult to come back after this. Though “I’m sorry” is a good place to start, and most certainly universal, it’s going to be harder to get yourself out of this pickle.

Below are some of the reasons why cross-cultural campaigns sometimes go awry.

  • Linguistic errors

  • Differences in body gestures

  • Differences in humor

  • Differences in cultural values

  • Divergent social aspirations

  • Product/service isn’t valuable

  • Poor communication with translator/marketing team


Taking your marketing globally is a big step for your brand, and one that you deserve to make. Just be sure that you are ready for it. By taking your time, doing your homework, choosing the right message and working with the appropriate marketing professionals, you can create a multicultural marketing campaign that makes you a hero on both ends of the world.