This is the short story of a famous marketing blunder / urban myth in the 1970s. It can teach us a lot about the importance of cultural sensitivity and the dos and don’ts when doing business internationally …
First of all, the actual story:
Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the UK using the slogan “Nothing sucks like Electrolux” in the 70s. The slogan was crafted by a British ad agency. At that time, the word ‘suck’ had not implied the meaning ‘to be bad’ in British English.
Click play and see it for yourself:
Even though the Electrolux hoover was never actually sold in the American market, the US found the slogan hilarious – for a reason we know very well: The verb ‘suck’ in both American and now in British English has a secondary meaning: ‘to fail, to be unpleasant, to be very bad’.
Some American marketers think this is a classic example of a marketing blunder, but it’s actually just an urban myth. The pun was intended for the UK market where it worked very well. However, we can learn from this story a great deal.
It is crucial for businesses entering into foreign markets to understand the language, culture and consumer attitudes. Both in business meetings, negotiations and in advertising, adopting a culturally appropriate and sensitive point of view is important for a product or service launch to succeed.
Businesses can overcome the language and cultural barrier in three ways:
- Engaging localisation experts and translators and interpreters.
- Employing multilingual individuals for international negotiations, projects, mergers and acquisitions.
- Investing into the language and cultural skills of the work force that will be responsible for dealing with foreign markets.
I fundamentally believe in the importance of point two and three for a thriving, long-lasting and effective business relationship. In my next post, I’ll explain more about why I think it’s not the best solution to work solely with translators and interpreters when doing business internationally.
Until then, I’d love to hear from you. Have you come across any international marketing blunders that you found either funny or for some reason not appropriate? Let me know in the comments section below.
As ever, thank you so much for reading, and I hope to catch you next time.
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In USSR was a car’s brend “Жигули”. For some languages of Europe it’s sound like “gigolo”. Then for export in Europe invented new word “LADA”.
I remember this well and at the time all my friends and I thought it was hilarious because of the oral sex connotations.
Wow, I didn’t know the full story. I thought it was a either untrue or simply a mistake made in Sweden. Not that the implications of the word was different in UK and US. Thanks! Interesting read.