Every country has a different history meaning that overtime they molded their own distinct values and beliefs (what is morally/ethically correct and incorrect) in today’s modern age. Provided that every country has established their own sense of right and wrong there exists cases where certain ads may be sexist and thus considered globally unacceptable, but there have been numerous situations in the past where an ad was considered sexist in one country but not in others. In France a commercial may be perfectly innocent but scandalous in China, this is because of their different cultural beliefs.
In time multinational corporations made the discovery that the way women are portrayed in advertising may not always be considerate. In Alecia Swasy’s book “Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Procter & Gamble,” the writer discusses the result of an imprudent soap commercial.
“A Camay campaign pitched the soap as making women more attractive to men, a common theme in P&G advertising. The ad showed a Japanese man walking into the bathroom while his wife sat in the tub. Japanese women were offended because it is ‘bad manners for a husband to impose on his wife’s privacy while she is bathing,’ explained Mia Ishiguro, who worked on Camay in Japan. ‘Our consumers resented the breach of good manners and the overt chauvinism of the situation.’”
In the more western countries such portrayal of women would normally not be considered a problem, but in other cultures it may be utterly unacceptable. That is why it is important to understand local attitudes, as it would spare advertisers the potential risk of offending their audience to attain greater success in target markets, particularly if they aim to expand internationally.
Some gender-specific marketing is bound to fail in nearly any country as it passes the boundary of social norms. For example, it was learnt that Reebok’s brand name for a pair of women’s running shoe came from the name of a medieval demon that preyed on sleeping women.
Another situation occurred when Fiat attempted to market a car to Spanish women in a bizarre way by sending what appeared to be anonymous love letters, this made the women feel threatened and insecure.
Author Paul A. Herbig noted in his “Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing” that AT&T hadn’t sufficiently researched local attitudes in an advertisement targeting Latinos. In the ad, a Puerto Rican wife says to her husband, “Run downstairs and phone Mary. Tell her we will be a little late.” For European standards, for example, this most likely comes across as totally innocent when in fact the author explains that in many Latin American cultures a wife wouldn’t order her husband to such a thing and that and “almost no Latin would feel it necessary to phone to warn of tardiness, since it is expected”, thus the ad was not so effective.
Silly ad mistakes can drain a budget dedicated to marketing by entirely overlooking their point, plus the ad may never be displayed and thus not seen by the intended audience because of laws and cultural norms.
Companies can avoid international, gender-related and translation blunders if they research in-depth what faux pas to avoid in each country that they plan on presenting their ads.