16th August 2022

Now more than ever before, effective marketing can attract audiences from all over the world. With over half the world (58.4%) using social media, and over 5 billion having access to the internet, digital marketing promotion can exponentially increase the amount of revenue your business can generate online.  

However, like all opportunities in business, they come with their fair share of challenges, and globalisation may not seem as easy as you think.  Targeting multiple countries, languages, and cultures without adapting your communication strategy can lead your audiences misinterpreting key messages. Unfortunately, the phrase “any publicity is good publicity” cannot be applied to global marketing campaigns that damage the reputation and waste the budget of international brands.  

Here are 5 examples of terrible fails in global branding that should make you think twice about language and culture before you launch your next international marketing campaign.  


HSBC, Global Markets: Do nothing 

As the 6th largest worldwide wealth manager, HSBC’s operations are of a scale and budget which will make a mistake at this level inexcusable. HSBC globally advertised its slogan “assume nothing” to build a reputation as an innovative organisation. Instead, the phrase was translated to “do nothing” across countless international markets resulting in a 10 million dollar clean-up job to rebrand the embarrassing translation error.  


Mercedes Benz, China: Rush to die?  

I can imagine a huge hesitation most clients have when buying faster cars is the increased risk of crashing. Now you don’t have to be a marketing expert to know it wouldn’t be wise to widely promote this fact. However, the billion-dollar corporation at Mercedes Benz failed to realise that ‘Benz’ sounds worrying, like ‘bensi’ which means ‘rush to die.’ 


Tresemme, South Africa: Dry and Damaged 

The online advert featured images of African hair labelled as frizzy & dull, and dry & damaged while labelling white hair as normal, fine & flat. The racism in this advert forced brands like Shoprite, Woolworths, and Pick N Pay to drop Tresemme products, and forced senior executives at Clicks to resign.  

Much can be said about this brand’s failure, particularly in the areas of cultural sensitivity.  

The Lesson: Tresemme didn’t intend for their advertisement to be explicitly racist and insensitive, but Tresemme’s team simply did not consider the cultural significance of calling African hair frizzy or damaged. However, given the average 100-million-dollar marketing budget of Tresemme it is shocking they failed to consider the cultural insensitivities inherent within their product branding.  


Pepsi, China, and India: Zombie relatives and Child Labour 

Pepsi has a rather embarrassing history with global branding. In China, their slogan ‘come alive with the Pepsi generation’ had a direct Chinese translation to ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.’ Understandably, this left the Chinese population confused, insulted and firmly on team Coca-Cola!  

You’d think after one international marketing fail, they would have learnt, however, Pepsi caused further controversy with their Indian video advertising campaign. The advert showed a child bringing Pepsi to a cricket team and many believed it was directly promoting child labour. This caused many protests in India and resulted in Pepsi getting a lawsuit.  


KFC, China: “Eat Your Fingers Off”  

When KFC were looking to expand to the Beijing market the marketing department failed to notice a key mistake within the translation and localisation of their famous slogan ‘finger licking good.’ This famous line quickly became infamous in China when it was translated to ‘eat your fingers off.’  

These terrible fails in global branding serve as a wake-up call for international brands thinking of conducting international marketing campaigns without translation and localisation. 

ilc Communication’s team of content writers are bilingual specialists who ensure your clients global communications retain its meaning and tone worldwide.  

Get in touch today, and find out how we can save you having a failed international campaign!

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