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Guide to international media & print advertising

Guide to international media & print advertising


Advertising is an art form. To successfully grab a consumer’s attention, an advertisement must be relevant, interesting, and provide evidence of value. Brand and product perception in the eyes of the consumer is key to having them pay attention, remember, and react to what is being advertised. That said regional perceptions vary widely. Before investing time and money into advertising within a new region, it is important to understand advertising expectations within that region, complete due diligence of the market, know the legal requirements, and have a crisis management plan in place for handling unexpected situations.

Long before advertising within a region comes into play, companies have often already contributed an incredible amount of time and money determining product relevance and revenue potential through experts and market research. They’ve determined where and when to go, evaluated legal, tax, and trade regulations, and have made the necessary technology investments to make the venture a success. Releasing advertising campaigns haphazardly within a new regional market can be quite costly to the investment that has already been made.

This paper discusses the continued growth of print and media advertising, how the tone of an advertisement effects brand perception in various regions, explain the importance of understanding local government and organisational regulations, look at lessons from other brands regarding language inefficiencies and failures to communicate on a local level.

Global advertising statistics

In spite of the rise of digital advertising, print and television advertising spend continues to grow.

Globally, ad spend increased 3.2% in 2012 (yoy) to $557 billion, according to Nielsen’s quarterly Global AdView Pulse report. Though Europe experienced a 4.2% decrease in ad spend, markets in the Middle East and Africa experienced impressive growth of 14.6%, and spend in Egypt increased 20.4%. Advertising spend increased in the Asian-Pacific market, albeit growth was slight at 2.8% compared to the 11.5% growth from the previous year.


Kantar Media reported that in Q1 of 2013, US advertising expenditures were at $30.2 billion (excluding internet display ads). Though the overall market saw a 0.1% decline from Q1 in 2012, advertising spend in consumer magazines rose 1.8%, cable TV saw gains of 5.2%, national spot radio increased 5.7%, and outdoor advertising grew 4.3%. Most notable in advertising expenditure increases was within the Hispanic market, accounting for a 13.5% increase in Spanish-language TV, 12% in Hispanic magazines, and Hispanic newspapers even increased 1.4% - a market where overall advertising spend significantly decreased.

In 2012, 82% of non-internet advertising in China was on TV. Though television advertising dominates in advertising spend, it grew by just 1.4% due to restrictions or resources and policies. Newspaper adverts are still strongly in second place at 13%; however, they saw a decrease of more than 7% this past year. Advertising in magazines and on radio are quite small, but both grew nearly 10% over the last year.

Total non-digital advertising expenditures in India remained stagnant in 2012 at Rs 327.4 billion (US$ 6.05 billion). Unlike China, print is the largest beneficiary of advertising spend at 46% at Rs 150 billion (US$ 2.77 billion).

Though digital advertising has been explosive in Russia - decreasing the growth of print and media advertising 6% in 2012 - both print and media grew 2% and 9%, respectively (according to East-West Digital News).

Companies like P&G, AT&T, L’Oreal, and Ford Motor Company are continuing to increase their global advertising budgets, further widening the gap between themselves and their competition. When companies with fewer resources move into new markets, they must navigate cultural land mines and government regulations to bring to market a product with perceived value; however, value is perceived quite differently from one global market to the next.

Media advertising: UK vs. US

There is a bit of overlap in culture throughout the western world. TV programming is a great example of this. We’ve seen a number of programs successfully make the transition from the UK market to the US (Absolutely Fabulous, Dr. Who, Downton Abbey) and we’ve seen a number of programming successfully be reworked for the US market (The Office, Pop Idol, Master Chef). Likewise, the US contributed the Brighton Belles (Golden Girls), Jeopardy!, and Law and Order to the UK. However, similarities in taste for entertainment do not mean that these audiences can be advertised to similarly. What makes one culture buy, can quickly turn the other off.

What’s important to understand when differentiating the US and UK market is that America has far more advertisements than England. A 30 minute program in the US on a network channel will on average have 8 minutes of programming, 10 minutes on a cable channel; in the UK, commercial’s average 6 minutes per half hour, with the BBC only showing commercials for their own programming at the end of each show.

In the US, commercials are in high demand for attention so they are loud, fast, attention grabbing, and often exaggerated in terms of what the product actually delivers. In the UK, this form of advertisement is unacceptable and offensive. A common advert may tell a story without mentioning the product; you may only become aware of the advertised product when the brand logo is displayed at the end.

English Advert

In the UK, to oversell, brag, or compare your product to another product (think US’s Apple/PC and Pepsi/Coke campaigns) is considered in bad taste and diminishes your brand; however, in the US consumers want to know what differentiates your product from everything else on the market.

American Advert

Let’s expand on this topic by looking at the dissimilarities in advertising for these relatively similar cultures for a well-known brand like Starbucks.

In the US example below, you can see that Starbucks presents their drinks as something wonderful that can fulfill a need; however, the UK example is thought provoking and entertaining, but says nothing about the range or quality of their coffee. The ad’s intent is to inform viewers that coffee is discounted on Monday mornings, but that isn’t revealed until the last few seconds.



When expanding into new markets, Starbucks strived to understand the communities they entered by building partnerships with local businesses in order to better understand the customs and preferences of their customers. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz stated “We remain highly respectful of the culture and traditions of the countries in which we do business. We recognise that our success is not an entitlement, and we must continue to earn the trust and respect of customers every day.”

Starbucks tackled issues in various countries in regards to cultural perceptions, while continuing to maintain their brand. In China, a country where tea dominates, Starbucks was able to get a foothold by advertising itself to the emerging middle class as an affordable luxury and a status symbol. In France, where historically a café culture has existed, competing directly with the other café’s was not in Starbuck’s best interest. Here their advertisements were focused on what they served that couldn’t be found elsewhere, such as Starbucks caramel coffee. In Italy, a culture where coffee and food consumption go hand and hand, Starbuck’s advertising had to promote their food alongside their coffee.

However, Starbucks hasn’t always got it right the first time around. When introducing their Gingerbread Latte to the German market, it should have been an easy win as gingerbread is a hugely popular treat in Germany. However, they advertised the drink as the Gingerbread Latte, rather than translating it to Lebkuchen Latte, and sales were abysmal. The following winter, the correction to the name was made and sales flourished.

Understanding how buyers view your product, what they know about your brand, and what motivates them to buy are key to successfully building your revenue stream and presence within a new territory and culture.

Advertising tone

Again, perception is important and varies from one culture to the next. As stated above, the US market needs to know what differentiates your product (Bing/Google). In the UK, adverts are viewed as a disturbance. To get someone in the UK to watch an ad you need to entertain them. The advertisement should be respectful, entertaining, funny, or clever, as well as extremely honest and humble in what the product provides.

Similarly to the UK, when advertising in China and India, never compare your product to your competitor. Any level of commercialism that is seen to disrespect or misrepresent another product will destroy your brand. In China, when advertising your product, you should not make any unsubstantiated claims. Don’t refer to your product or services as “the best” or “unbeatable,” unless you have irrefutable data to back up your claim. If this is the case, be sure to include the source of the data and make sure that the source is reputable.

In India, there is greater acceptance in bragging about your product, or being excited about it, as long as you don’t disparage anyone else. Adverts tend to be paced like American commercials, more vivid, louder, and attention grabbing.

Pepsi’s campaign, “Live for Now”, has crossed several global markets successfully. Pepsi ads center around a known pop-star, who sings and dances, tying in the logo with a statement by the artist about Pepsi towards the end. It blends the vivid, exciting, attention-grabbing pace that American’s appreciate, with the respect, entertainment, and downplaying of the personal brand that is more widely accepted from a global perspective.

Beyonce (US & UK)

Momo Wu (China)

Nicki Minaj (Global English Version)

Pepsi provides an appropriate format for developing a globally accepted tone. When beginning a campaign within a new market, the first rule of thumb is to study what is currently being done within that market, who is doing it right, and who is getting it wrong. In markets like the UK, US, and China, sex appeal is an accepted form of selling, and can be seen through Beyonce’s and Momo Wu’s version of the Live for Now commercial. However, you’ll notice in the global English version, that all actors are dressed conservatively, even in the beach scene, making this a much more cross-culturally acceptable advertisement.

Government regulations

Second to investigating what other advertisers are currently doing in the market, is understanding the advertising laws of the land. In some countries it isn’t just frowned upon to negatively portray your competitor within a commercial, it’s illegal.

There are often regulations in using the country’s symbols, flags, or any representation of their government body. In India, ads cannot show hate, contempt or dissatisfactions towards the government or between different classes of citizens; advertisements cannot include the United Nations official seal, the Indian National Flag, the Government of India’s official seal (or any governmental seals), or a picture representation of the President or Prime Minister of India. Advertisements cannot disclose the name of the government agency responsible for conducting and analysing research related matters; and under the Representation of People Act, no political publicity or propaganda is allowed within 48 hours of an election it is connected to.

China’s government can be unyielding when reacting to any form of advertisement or branding that opposes or is disingenuous to the Communist Party. All advertisements must respect the social hierarchy and never devalue another brand. Unilever once mentioned to local media the need to raise prices on their detergents due to increasing commodity costs. The government fined the company $310,000 for allegedly sparking panic purchasing during a time of inflation.

Censorship laws can also be vague and open to interpretation. An ad can be rejected if it is thought to violate how people should relate to one another and society.

Due to the ability of China’s government to regulate by banning search terms, your brand can be severely put at risk by no fault of your own. In March 2012, this happened to Ferrari when one of their $700,000 vehicles crashed, killing the driver and injuring the passengers. When it became clear that the individuals were related to a highly prominent political figure, news stories and blog posts were censored, as well as the term “Ferrari” on local search engines.

According to the Association of Accredited Advertisers of India (AAAI), individual media groups should establish a code of ethics. Some newspapers or magazines will not permit tobacco or alcohol advertisements; and the brand being advertised may be investigated to ensure the reliability of its products.

The AAAI has established a basic list of rules for advertisements which media groups are required to adhere to. Some of which include:

  • Prize competitions may not exceed Rs.1000/month without proper licensing

  • Avoid unauthorised uses of another organisation’s trademark at the risk of civil/criminal liabilities

  • Do not mislead buyers with magical cures or unethically encourage self-medication or self-treatment

  • Do not label your product to be of a quality it cannot match

  • Under the Copyright Act of 1957, advertisements must be original

  • Do not publish advertisements meant to sexually titillate adolescents and adults; women cannot be represented in an obscene or indecent manner

  • Advertisements cannot violate the rights of consumers or exploit them

Translation in advertising

Driven by new potential revenue streams and enabled by advancing technologies, more and more corporations have gone global. In doing so, many of them have made mistakes at the expense of their brand and revenue goals. Often, mistakes that were made occurred because they failed to translate their brand or product, their ads were translated carelessly, or they did not recognise that once a local ad was translated for another market, it became culturally insensitive.

Brand names that failed

Corporations today have learned the need to speak locally when advertising within a new country; however, it is still common for companies to fail to translate either their product or brand name for a new market because they perceive themselves to be so well known within their market niche.

Products like Vicks Cough Drops and Puffs learned quickly that their brand names would have to be adapted for certain markets: Vicks changed to Wicks in the Germany due to the pronunciation of Vicks being quite similar to a vulgarity relating to sexual penetration; Puffs brand tissues in Germany found “puff” to be a colloquialism for a brothel, and in Great Britain it is a crude term for homosexuals.

Even with a subsidiary in Germany, Ford introduced the Probe, which translates to “test.” This vehicle was difficult to advertise for as prospective consumers understood it to be a test car instead of an actual vehicle.

Brand names that failed in the US include Nads (hair removal), Wang (computers), and the IKEA FARTFULL (work bench), while the UK greatly enjoyed the Wii brand, as well as America’s popular tourist bag, the “Fanny Pack.”

Bad translation!

Careless translations are an easy way to destroy an advertising campaign. When the Jolly Green Giant brand began advertising into Arabic for Saudi Arabia, they discovered that the translation of their well-known brand came out as “Intimidating Green Ogre.”

Nike created a commercial for the US with people from various countries stating their slogan, “Just Do It,” in the language of their country. It was later revealed that the Samburu tribesman was in fact telling the camera that he didn’t want the shoes—“I don’t want these, give me big shoes.”

When advertising in Mexico, Parker Pens mistranslated their slogan, “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” to “it won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Humorously, they had translated “embarrass” to “embarazar,” the Spanish word for pregnant.

Avoid being culturally insensitive

The most destructive failure in advertising globally is being culturally insensitive. Whereas brand names not being localised or slogans being mistranslated can often be funny, or at least memorable, insulting your prospective audience can lead to irrevocable damage.

Fiat produced a campaign in Spain that involved sending love letters to women. The idea is that the women would be enticed to go to a dealership to see the cars; however, the women receiving the letters felt threatened and stalked. And husbands were none-too-pleased with their wives receiving invitations to take in “a little adventure” because of how she “glanced interestingly” in the direction of the admirer.

In the US, New York’s Helmsley Palace Hotel lacked cultural intelligence with their print advertisement stating “In India it’s the Taj Mahal. In New York it’s the Helmsley Palace. Service and appointments fit for royalty – you – our guests,” the metaphor being completely inappropriate as the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, a fact the typical guest with the financial means to stay at the hotel would undoubtedly be worldly enough to know.

Cultural landmines within new regions are everywhere. A few examples include:

  • Referring to US citizens as Americans in Brazilian advertisements would be confusing as Brazilians refer to themselves as Americans.

  • A pharmaceutical company selling birth control in Spain would find themselves in an uphill battle where the population is 94% practicing Catholics.

  • A US based cattle rancher wouldn’t want to advertise leather or leather goods into India or Argentina for very different reasons: cows are sacred in India and overly abundant in Argentina where beef is one of their largest exports.

  • And if you own a fast-food franchise, you should think long and hard about what you advertise on your menu in countries with high populations of Hindus who don’t eat beef or Muslims who don’t eat pork.

Speak the local language

In order for an advertising campaign to be effective, you must build trust. To do this, you must speak locally. Therefore, you must go beyond translating content, to transcreating intent. Make sure that all colloquialisms, idioms, and metaphors are completely understandable to your target audience. If not, you need to modify them to similar culture references to get your point across.

One study shows that as few as 18% of bilingual speakers are willing to purchase items online from a website not in their native language. Be sure that if your advert’s intent is to push consumers to your website that it speaks locally as well.

Check out the competition

No one would ever suggest plagiarising, but understanding the most effective methods for advertising within a region is much better done by evaluating the local success stories. But don’t forget to check out the bad ads as well. Knowing what not to do is just as important!

Know the law

It was covered earlier in this paper, but it cannot be stated enough, knowing the laws of the land for advertising is crucial. There will often be governmental bodies or organisations that set standards for what is and is not acceptable in advertising. Breaking them can lead to law suits, debilitating settlements, opportunity loss, and even removal of rights to advertise within the target region.

Be respectful

Disparaging another brand, class of citizen, region or religion or a particular gender or race is unacceptable in many regions. Stay away from politically or sociologically sensitive subjects. Do not exploit any class, gender, disability or human social situation in any way.

Test your campaign with market research

Ninety percent of culturally insensitive issues can be avoided by conducting a little bit of market research. Test your campaign and ad on an anonymous group of your target consumers to get feedback on whether or not your message was clear, concise, and acceptable. A test market will provide you accurate feedback on how your brand and product is perceived as a result of your advertising message.

Pump up your advertisement campaign with a social media strategy

Social media can do wonders for brand recognition and acceptance when paired appropriately with an advertising campaign. By including hashtags and URLs to your advertisements, consumers who are engaged by your campaign can get involved in your online community and provide valuable feedback that may not have emerged from limited market research. Learn more about navigating a global social media strategy »

Expect the unexpected and establish a crisis management plan

So you’re speaking locally, you know what works and doesn’t work within the region, you got the regulations down, you’re respectful and the market research backs up that your campaign is a hit. How can you go wrong? Current events!

Make sure that what is happening in that region, as well as the world, is being monitored so that events don’t negatively impact your campaign, and if they do, you can react quickly. For example, if you’re a paint company that releases a campaign using a tag line “Shake up your house with brilliant paint from YOUR BRAND,” at the same time the region experiences a massive earthquake with lost lives – your brand will be in crisis.

Three common elements to a crisis include a major threat to the organisation, the element of surprise, and a short decision time. Your plan must detail the specific strategies for containment, damage control, and communication. Have a plan in place for shutting down any media advertisements and pulling print advertising. In the case of a magazine that has already been printed and sent out for distribution, containment isn’t an option. In this case, you should have a plan in place that allows you to control the damage. When communicating, make sure you are using the appropriate mediums, be it TV, newspaper, radio, blogs, or social media.

Don’t rush to apologise. Some cultures don’t respond well to apologies. An [incredibly humble] explanation of the timing and scenario will be much more effective than admitting blame. Other cultures, regardless of fault, will respond better to your taking full responsibility for the situation and making efforts to rectify the situation, perhaps through a sizable donation. Don’t just use your standard crisis management plan for every region; make sure each region has its own separate plan based on the customs and expectations of that region.

In spite of huge digital advertising growth, print and media advertising are not dead!

There is a worldwide perception that with the growth of digital media, other forms of advertising including print, television, and radio are in decline. Globally, current studies have shown this not to be the case.

Speak locally

Use in-country resources and be sure to have your ad content transcreated rather than simply translated to ensure that the intent is delivered to your target consumer.

Conduct due diligence

Research consumer expectations, success and failures of other advertisements and campaigns, and be sure to have your final ad and ad copy tested within a smaller community of your target consumers to get feedback on whether or not the ad is culturally appropriate and succeeds delivering the intended message.

Know the law

There are rules to advertising in every country; breaking these rules can come at huge costs. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Prepare a localised crisis management plan

No matter how prepared you are, and how great your campaign is for the local audience, things can and often do go wrong. Don’t depend on your global crisis management plan; make sure you have a local version for each region you are advertising into.

Susan Andrus

As Marketing Manager for TranslateMedia, Susan Andrus has 15 years’ experience in the translation industry with 10 years dedicated to marketing, with a focus on advertising, messaging, strategic targeting, public relations and email marketing.

Follow Susan on Twitter and or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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