How to Reverse the Advertising Message

Your advertising message could be misinterpreted in the other countries, cultures and languages.

An advertisement for washing powder simply had three images: dirty washing, a washing machine using the detergent advertised, and then clean washing. It was a very simple and effective concept. The only problem was that this was published in a Middle Eastern country, where Arabic readers read from right to left. The failure to look at things through the eyes of an Arabic reader reversed the message. This is because it was designed by Europeans who assumed that everyone reads from left to right. To me, this reveals a disdainful lack of interest in the culture of the target audience.

There are many examples of mistakes that have been made as a result of a business not looking at things from the customer’s point of view. Misunderstanding other cultures and languages creates many problems.

An American company was going to launch a new brand of beer in the UK and call this golden beverage Ambrosia. After all, Ambrosia is the name of the nectar of the gods. A perfect name you might think, except for one thing. In the UK the word Ambrosia is also a well-known brand of tinned rice pudding. In the UK most people have eaten Ambrosia rice pudding. It is deeply ingrained in the minds of UK customers that Ambrosia means rice pudding. Luckily, the American chief executive had a British deputy who told him of this cultural phenomenon, and the brand name was changed just in time.

It can be fatal to assume that we know the customer. We probably don’t know what the customer thinks about a brand name, how they define quality, or how people read. In all these examples the solution is simple. We should actually ask them. To ask one Arabic reader what he thought of the washing powder advert would have taken very little money. Money wasn’t the issue; attitude was the problem. The barrier to this simple market research was not budget, but arrogance. What we need is the right attitude. We need to adopt a mindset that customers might know something we don’t know.

Key Points

Failure to look at things from the customers’ point of view can be costly. This is especially the case when other cultures or languages are involved.

What to do next

– Take care to test advertisements with actual users. If other languages or cultures are involved, make sure you consult with a native speaker or member of the target community. Make this part of your business system.
– Make it company policy to test all communications first with real customers.

This is an extract from David’s marketing book ‘Chase One Rabbit: Strategic Marketing for Business Success. 63 Tips, Techniques and Tales for Creative Entrepreneurs’.
Read this and 62 more inspiring and practical marketing techniques on your smartphone by downloading this strategic marketing book as an eBook. It is also available as a paperback and as an Audiobook. This highly-acclaimed marketing book is also available in Spanish and French.

David Parrish is a marketing speaker, author and consultant. He works worldwide helping businesses to become even more successful by using the best strategic marketing techniques.

David Parrish. Marketing speaker

How to Reverse the Advertising Message

Translator Florence Magee (neé Harmelin) with author David Parrish

French edition translator Florence Magee (neé Harmelin) with author David Parrish


Marketing book Chase One Rabbit. Spanish translation

Celebrating the launch of the Spanish translation of the marketing book in Spain

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