Blunders Made by Cross-Cultural Businesses
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often get many emails from visitors to our sites saying how much they
enjoy the article on cross cultural blunders - Results of Poor Cross Cultural Awareness. We are constantly asked for more. Bowing to pressure we have
therefore complied some more examples of how cultural ignorance can and
does lead to negative (and much of the time humorous) consequences.
The following cultural blunders are therefore presented to our visitors
and we would again like to stress that such examples of ?culture gone
wrong? are presented in order illustrate to people how crucial cultural
awareness is in international business today.
- Managers at one American company were
startled when they discovered that the brand name of the cooking oil
they were marketing in a Latin American country translated into Spanish
as "Jackass Oil."
Motors tried to market its new car, the Matador, based on the image
of courage and strength. However, in Puerto Rico the name means "killer"
and was not popular on the hazardous roads in the country.
- A sales manager in Hong Kong tried to control employee’s promptness
at work. He insisted they come to work on time instead of 15 minutes
late. They complied, but then left exactly on time instead of working
into the evening as they previously had done. Much work was left unfinished
until the manager relented and they returned to their usual time schedule.
- A US telephone company tried to market its products and services to
Latinos by showing a commercial in which a Latino wife tells her husband
to call a friend, telling her they would be late for dinner. The commercial
bombed since Latino women do not order their husbands around and their
use of time would not require a call about lateness.
- A cologne for men pictured a pastoral scene with a man and his dog.
It failed in Islamic countries dogs are considered unclean.
- Procter & Gamble used a television commercial in Japan that was
popular in Europe. The ad showed a woman bathing, her husband entering
the bathroom and touching her. The Japanese considered this ad an invasion
of privacy, inappropriate behavior, and in very poor taste.
- An American business person refused an offer of a cup of coffee from
a Saudi businessman. Such a rejection is considered very rude and the
business negotiations became stalled.
- A Japanese manager in an American company was told to give critical
feedback to a subordinate during a performance evaluation. Japanese
use high context language and are uncomfortable giving direct feedback.
It took the manager five tries before he could be direct enough to discuss
the poor performance so that the American understood.
- One company printed the "OK" finger sign on each page of
its catalogue. In many parts of Latin America that is considered an
obscene gesture. Six months of work were lost because they had to reprint
all the catalogues.
- Leona Helmsley should have done her homework before she approved a
promotion that compared that compared her Helmsley Palace Hotel in New
York to the Taj Mahal - a mausoleum in India.
- A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of
four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, pronunciation
of the word "four" in Japanese sounds like the word "death"
and items packaged in fours are unpopular.
- In 1985 Bechtel pulled out of a joint venture in New Guinea. It seemed
flawed from the start. Bech-tel had 33 months to build a new plant,
organize services, and meet a production deadline or face financial
penalties. They planned to place a mine at the top of a mountain in
an isolated rain forest, creating a town of 2,500, camps for 400, a
power plant, air strip, roads, hospitals, and support services (for
natives who had never seen a Westerner). The natives who were recruited
to work (while receiving 400 inches of rain during the rainy season)
had no concept of private property, modern money, central government,
or work regulations. The multicultural workforce of 5,000 was composed
of mixed indigenous people and imported technicians from the United
States, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, and Philippines. The road builders
did not believe in working around the clock (the contractor finally
went bankrupt). Natives also did not like the work schedule so they
went with bows and arrows to shut down telephone lines, roads, and frighten
personnel. There was an 85% turnover in the native workforce.
- FEDEX (Federal Express) wisely chose to expand overseas when it discovered
the domestic market was saturated. However, the centralized or "hub
and spoke" delivery system that was so successful domestically
was inappropriate for overseas distribution. In addition, they failed
to consider cultural differences: In Spain the workers preferred very
late office hours, and in Russia the workers took truck cleaning soap
home due to consumer shortages. FEDEX finally shut down over 100 European
operations after $1.2 billion in losses.
- Mountain Bell Company tried to promote its telephone and services
to Saudi’s. Its ad portrayed an executive talking on the phone with
his feet propped up on the desk, showing the soles of his shoes - something
an Arab would never do!
"Neil Payne is Managing Director of Kwintessential.
The UK based company provides a suite of services themed around internationalisation
including translation, localization, design and online marketing. For
more information visit www.kwintessential.co.uk"
Published - June 2012
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