How international content marketing can go horribly wrong [Q & A]

Jul 22nd, 2015

Ridiculed for his football skills, but feted for his cross-cultural chutzpah, search marketing strategist Gino De Blasio answers our questions about international content marketing. He speaks 5 languages and has lived across Europe.

How did you get started in content marketing?

I fell into content marketing about six years ago when I could see engaging content being shared across social channels; this was in the relative infancy of Facebook and Twitter starting to be hubs of information in the digital world. Since then I have worked in a variety of roles which have allowed me to develop content marketing strategies for small to large brands.

What’s the relationship of content marketing to search?

That’s a good question. I like to explain content marketing as the visual/audio/sensory output or creation to a search question. So, whenever you search for something in particular, such as ‘men’s shoes’ you’ll be presented with a variety of sites and/or content. It could be an infographic as to ‘how to pick your summer men’s shoe’ or a fashion podcast, or even quite simply a very well optimised site.

Where content marketing is affecting the relationship with search is now in its diffusion. Social media and real time news and events are having a massive influence in the content that we are finding when we search. Hashtags have become a popular way to search for real time things and this means fresh and timely content is more relevant than ever before.

Great content, thought out with the user in mind, is where we can explain the relationship in a search context. Think of the memes, videos, infographics etc that you see on sites; now think how many times you’ve seen them shared across social platforms and so on. It’s about making something worthwhile to actively get natural engagement and linking from lots of different sources. That’s why you need to consider the end user at the start of the journey, and where they are going to be affected in their quest to help answer a question, inform an opinion or provide further information.

Dr Pepper nailed cross-cultural content marketing by embracing ‘spanglish’, as demonstrated in the billboard below…

Dr Pepper nailed cross-cultural content marketing by embracing 'spanglish'

How does international content marketing differ from regular content marketing?

Content marketing is about consistently delivering interesting and valuable content that engages your customers, builds trust and establishes a relationship. International and multilingual content marketing is done across countries, economic regions or territories, identifying the right channels, platforms and cultural identities of each nation where content is used to either promote and develop brand identity or help with search.

What are the challenges presented by international content marketing?

You need to capture the nuances of the language to really engage your audience. Colloquialisms, humour and cultural sensitivities all need to be taken into account.

I would always recommend carrying out a PEST analysis (taking Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors into account) if you’re considering expanding content marketing beyond your domestic audience.

Any examples of how misjudging your international audience can go wrong?

There are some funny fails…

  • Braniff International translated a slogan touting its finely upholstered seats “Fly in Leather” into Spanish as “Fly Naked.”
  • Clairol launched a curling iron called “Mist Stick” in Germany even though “mist” is German slang for manure.
  • Coca-Cola’s brand name, when first marketed in China, was sometimes translated as “Bite The Wax Tadpole.”

bite the wax tadpole

  • Coors translated its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it is a colloquial term for having diarrhoea.
  • Ford blundered when marketing the Pinto in Brazil because the term in Brazilian Portuguese means “tiny male genitals”.
  • Ikea products were marketed in Thailand with Swedish names that in the Thai language mean “sex” and “getting to third base”.
  • KFC made Chinese consumers a bit apprehensive when “finger licking good” was translated as “eat your fingers off”.

Many of these examples come from before content marketing, or even digital marketing, existed as concepts but still serve as reminders of why it’s crucial to know your territory.

I also have some personal experience. About four years ago I was asked by Pirelli and Fiat to engage in some blogger outreach and content marketing. The task was simple enough: find ten bloggers who could communicate with their audience about the new performance tyres from Pirelli they’d developed with Fiat. A variety of content would be produced to be hosted on their site, such as videos and podcasts; the bloggers would visit the factory in Turin, be given a little tour and get to test the equipment and they could even produce their own live content.

It was going well until one particular blogger from France demanded something that I never expected; a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti to “test the tyres”. When I went back with the bad news that it wasn’t possible, I received a terrifying email response.

Gino’s story of how cultural differences led to him offending a French blogger unfolds from Slide 14 in this recent presentation…

That all sounds a bit stressful

Yes, but also a great learning opportunity. I understood that in France, bloggers are somewhat treated like rock stars, so demands tend to be higher and more specific in nature.

I also learnt that little nuances in the language that I used made the blogger feel secluded from the project rather than being a part of it. Words like “participation” are innocuous in English but in other languages can distance the blogger from the original objective.

And differences in language and culture don’t have to be barriers; you can make them work to your advantage. Language is ever evolving and reflects common cultural differences. Embrace this both strategically and creatively.

I think the other thing I learnt was how different types of content can attract a completely different audience. French bloggers love doing their own video content which makes a massive difference when approaching the blogger; I misjudged this aspect and the blogger, rightly or wrongly hit me pretty hard in this area.

Finally, what are your top tips?

  1. Perform a content PEST analysis.
  2. Make considerations for all applicable aspects.
  3. Don’t just translate, trans-create; find colloquialisms etc.
  4. Where possible, use local language experts.
  5. Understand where user journeys are different.
  6. Think about what devices work best based on user journey, taking technological and cultural issues into account.
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