Cultural Sensitivity in International Advertising

When launching an international ad campaign, one of the most important factors for consideration is cultural sensitivity. Securing airtime overseas is hard work. It would be catastrophic to let it all go to waste if your ad sparks outcry and you have to pull it from the air.

Stay culturally sensitive when advertising overseas so that your brand can grow stronger across the globe. If you’re looking to expand your ad campaign internationally, we’ve got a few tips to aid in your breakthrough across borders.

Use what you know

Be mindful of any cultural tradition or taboo when deciding what to implement or omit into your storyboard. Be aware that sometimes, English words have different meanings in different English-speaking countries. For example, the word pissed means “angry” in American English, whereas in British English, pissed means drunk! It is also best to avoid any irrelevant slang or jokes for an international audience. Most importantly, it is prudent to be conscious about issues of cultural identity.

For example, Coca-Cola apologizes for offending indigenous people in the ad below:

Coca-Cola Mixe town ad, considered offensive to indigenous people

The ad above depicted a group of young, Caucasian volunteers on a community-building mission in the Mixe town of Totontepe. They bring Coca-Cola along with them in an attempt to spread unity and joy during the holiday season. However, indigenous advocacy groups took offense to this ad. They found the ad to be demeaning towards indigenous groups with allusions towards Colonialism. This ad was pulled by many television stations in Mexico for its offensive nature. Had Coca-Cola tested the ad, they could have spared the offense.

It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

To avoid being seen as culturally clueless and unwittingly offend people, the best possible way to troubleshoot these problems is to test your ads. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming either. With new technologies, you can test ads quickly, and inexpensively.

In our digital age, global connections have their advantages and disadvantages. Information can spread like wildfire, so PR disasters are virtually one click away. The solution is simple. You can test your ads in your desired market with the proper survey creation. Screen for your desired geographical market early on in the process to only get the survey responses that you need.

What happens when your new audience is non-English speaking? Make sure you have a top-notch translator. If you don’t have a native speaker on the team, there are some great online resources to use. Make sure the survey and the overall ad message are not lost in translation.

Looking to test your spots in an international market?  Wondering how you can incorporate reaction graphs into your ad testing game plan? Spot Trender can help you make positive changes to your brand’s ads. Spot Trender is a full-service ad testing company—we help our clients test their concepts/storyboards all the way to post-produced spots. Contact us now. We’ll work with you to craft powerful messages.




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