The cultural environment consists of the influence of religious, family, educational, and social systems in the marketing system. Marketers who intend to market their products overseas may be very sensitive to foreign cultures. While the differences between our cultural background in the United States and those of foreign nations may seem small, marketers who ignore these differences risk failure in implementing marketing programs. Failure to consider cultural differences is one of the primary reasons for marketing failures overseas. Table 6.1 provides some illustrations of cultural differences around the world.
In Ireland, the evening meal is called tea, not dinner.
In Asia, when a person bows to you, bow your head forward equal or lower than theirs.
A nod means "no" in Bulgaria and shaking the head side-to-side means "yes”.
The number 7 is considered bad luck in Kenya, good luck in the Czech Republic, and has magical connotations in Benin.
Pepsodent toothpaste was unsuccessful in Southeast Asia because it promised white teeth to a culture where black or yellow teeth are symbols of prestige.
In Quebec, a canned fish manufacturer tried to promote a product by showing a woman dressed in shorts, golfing with her husband, and planning to serve canned fish for dinner. These activities violated cultural norms.
Maxwell House advertised itself as the "great American coffee" in Germany. It found out that Germans have little respect for American coffee.
General Motors' "Body by Fisher" slogan became "Corpse by Fisher" when translated into Japanese.
In German, "Let Hertz Put You in the Driver's Seat" means "Let Hertz Make You a Chauffeur”.
In Cantonese, the Philip Morris name sounded the same as a phrase meaning no luck.
In Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, triangular shapes have a negative connotation.
In Thailand, it is considered unacceptable to touch a person's head, or pass something over it.
Red is a positive color in Denmark, but represents witchcraft and death in many African countries.
Americans usually smile as they shake hands. Some Germans consider smiles overly familiar from new business acquaintances. Americans should not say "Wie gehts?" ("How goes it?") It is also too informal for first meetings.
If you offer a compliment to a Chinese-speaking person, he or she will decline it, because disagreeing is the polite way to accept praise.
Do not say "Merci" ("Thanks") to a French person's compliment. You might be misinterpreted as making fun.
Italians wave goodbye as Americans beckon someone—with palm up and fingers moving back and forth; but in Asia, waving with the palm down is not interpreted as goodbye, but rather, "come here”.
Offering gifts when you visit a home is expected in Japan, but in the Soviet Union it may be considered a bribe.
In Brazil and Portugal, businesspeople like to entertain foreigners in their homes. When it is time to go, the host may feel constrained to insist that the foreigner stay. Foreigners should politely take their leave.
This task is not as easy as it sounds as various features of a culture can create an illusion of similarity. Even a common language does not guarantee similarity of interpretation. For example, in the US we purchase "cans" of various grocery products, but the British purchase "tins". A number of cultural differences can cause marketers problems in attempting to market their products overseas. These include: (a) language, (b) color, (c) customs and taboos, (d) values, (e) aesthetics, (f) time, (g) business norms, (h) religion, and (i) social structures. Each is discussed in the following sections.