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02/02/2006 - par Mark Tungate

I was delighted to receive the following insights into global marketing from Elliot Polak, the founder of advertising adaptation agency Text Appeal - which specialises in making ads understandable in many different languages. So here it is : a short guide to what can happen if marketers fail to understand cultural differences.

Burger King was forced to withdraw an ice-cream in the UK after a man protested that the product was offensive to Muslims. The design on the lid of the dessert, meant to look like a spinning ice-cream cone, was almost identical to the Arabic symbol for Allah.

In Malaysia, Toyota aired a commercial starring Brad Pitt. The country's Prime Minister promptly banned it, declaring that it was time for Asian advertising to feature Asian heroes. Meanwhile, in China, rather than identifying with the famous Marlboro man, consumers considered him ­lonely and felt sorry for him.

Elsewhere, Italian clothing company Benetton produced a poster showing a group of cute kids sticking out their tongues. But the image was banned in the Middle East, where showing « internal body parts » is illegal.

It's not just advertising that experiences cultural differences. For instance, the market for cognac in most parts of the world is sophisticated and rather mature. Yet ­Courvoisier's strongest inter­national sales are among American rappers, thanks to a Busta Rhymes hit ­called « Pass the Courvoisier ». Cheers !

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