In the 1980s, Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced their “Finger-Lickin’ Good” slogan to the Chinese market. However, a translation error turned it into “Eat Your Fingers Off.” Despite this, KFC’s reputation remained unscathed in the Chinese market. Yet, other global brands have faced significant backlash for failing to adapt their messaging to the local culture and sensitivities of their audiences. This raises the question: Why do brands continue to overlook the crucial role of localisation in marketing? 

In this blog post, we’ll dive into strategies to overcome the challenges of localising content for global campaigns. In addition, we’ll also dig into some of the most infamous localisation mistakes and what marketers can learn from them. 

Balancing Global and Localised Marketing 

Global and localised campaigns present different sets of challenges. Crafting a global message that resonates across diverse cultures is no easy task. Plus, choosing a global strategy doesn’t exonerate you from complying with varying regulations and respecting local cultural norms. On the other hand, localised campaigns require in-depth research and local knowledge. If you are working with a small central team, that can be extremely demanding. Yet, coordinating teams across different countries to launch multiple local campaigns is equally complex. So, how do you balance the broad reach of global campaigns and the cultural relevance of localised strategies?  

While there is no universal answer to this question, a hybrid solution is often the best way to go. Localised marketing campaigns boost consumer engagement by presenting your products in a culturally relevant way that is not achievable through global campaigns. Yet, you can still plan a global campaign and focus your localisation efforts only on specific aspects. 

For example, depending on your campaign’s scope, objectives, and target markets, you can decide to craft a universal message in English and localise only the visual aspect of the campaign. However, as already mentioned before, never neglect local legislation and cultural norms. These kinds of oversights can cost your brand financial and reputational backlash.   

Common Localisation Challenges and Best Practice.  

We’ve already seen how tricky it can be to overcome language barriers when launching global campaigns. Yet, language differences are only one of the elements to consider when targeting the global market or specific foreign countries. Here are some of the most common challenges of planning global marketing campaigns.  

Language Barriers   


Accurate and culturally sensitive translation is crucial when targeting audiences that speak different languages. Still, it is equally important when marketing to countries that share the same idiom. For example, consider local and national nuances in different English-speaking countries. Colloquial American expressions like “shoot the breeze” and “hit the sack” – meaning “having a casual conversation” and “go to bed” – might leave the British audience confused and unsure about what you are talking about.   

Example of failed localisation:

We’ve already covered a poor example of brand message translation with KFC at the beginning of this blog post. While Chinese consumers might have laughed at the slogan “Eat Your Fingers Off, ” the translation misstep didn’t portray KFC’s food as an appealing choice for a Sunday meal. 

Example of colloquial expressions lost in translation

The American brewery Coors experienced a translation mishap with its global “Turn It Loose” campaign. The colloquial expression, when translated in Spanish, means “suffer from diarrhea,” resulting in the brand gaining public attention but for all the wrong reasons.  

Example of successful global messaging:

McDonald’s has mastered global messaging for years. The unmistakable slogan “I’m lovin’ it” is just perfect: simple, meaningful, and universally understood.  

Best Practice:

Don’t use colloquial expressions and stick to standard language when crafting the message of global campaigns. If your campaign’s strength lies in your message’s colloquial tone, hire translators with experience in localisation or local copywriters. They will ensure your message is clear and captivating to the target local audience and not susceptible to misunderstandings. 

Matching Cultural Norms to Resonate with Local Communities  


Your marketing message must respect local sensitivities and match local customs and cultural norms. Failure to do so can result in your global campaign not engaging the target audience, being misunderstood, or, even worse, considered offensive.    

Example of backfiring local campaign:

Dolce & Gabbana infuriated the Chinese audience with a campaign featuring a clumsy Chinese lady trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks. The commercials didn’t go down well with Chinese consumers, who considered it racist, and many boycotted the Italian brand.  

Example of positive engagement with local communities:

Our client Optimum Nutrition leveraged its partnership with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) to expand its presence and enhance brand awareness in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Gaelic Games are the beating heart of Irish communities. Designing a campaign that portrayed local sports heroes allowed the global brand to connect with local Irish communities at a deeper level.   

Best Practice:

For your global campaigns, select content, topics, and narratives that reflect universally shared values. This way, you will appeal to a broader audience and avoid potential backlash. If you decide to localise your campaign, focus on activities and symbols at the heart of the local community you want to target. 

Considering Different Consumer Behaviours and Preferences    


Each market boasts its tastes, communication styles, and purchasing habits, making a one-size-fits-all approach ineffective. Moreover, the dynamic nature of cultural trends requires ongoing research and flexibility because what resonates today may not be appealing tomorrow.  


Brazilian society is characterised by a vibrant social life and a love for celebrations. Consumers are attracted by bright colours and lively music, and when shopping, 75% of Brazilians look for cost-saving products. On the opposite side of the globe, Japanese culture values group harmony, quality, and aesthetics. When it comes to buying preference, Japanese customers prefer products that “ensure durability and minimalist design”. Coca-Cola is one of the brands that shine in marketing localisation to meet local preferences and tastes. The brand went to the extent of modifying its logo to appeal to Japanese consumers, a strategy that turned out to be extremely successful with the local audience.  

Best Practice:

Research local tastes, preferences, and shopping habits and keep yourself updated on the latest consumer trends. Establishing a local presence or partnership can provide a direct line to current dynamics and nuances that might be challenging to identify from a distance. Be flexible and allow swift adjustments based on feedback and changing market conditions, ensuring your messaging remains relevant and resonant.  

Important Consideration when Localising Your Sales Promotions  

While all the challenges mentioned above also apply to sales promotions, you have to pay particular attention to two specific aspects when localising incentives and rewards offers. 

1. Local Regulations 

Localised campaigns can navigate regional regulations, protecting your brand’s reputation and safeguarding you from expensive financial penalties. Local legislation varies significantly from country to country and even from region to region. If you are launching a promotion in a new market or across different countries, you must research and design your campaign to comply with local regulations.  

2. Rewards or Incentives Selection

When selecting incentives for global or localised promotions, consider logistical challenges, as the ease and cost of delivering physical rewards can vary greatly depending on infrastructure and local regulations. For instance, the delivery of physical gifts in India is particularly challenging due to stringent customs clearance requirements, a ban on importing various goods, and customs duty charges on all items except books and magazines. If you are launching a cashback promotion, the payment method is another crucial aspect to consider. Due to banking regulations, certain types of payment or financial incentives might not be widely accepted or practical in some countries. For example, while gift cards might be popular in one market, they may hold little value in a country where the relevant services or stores are inaccessible.

Besides meeting the needs and the satisfaction of local consumers, localising these elements is crucial to planning and designing the mechanics of your sales promotion. Make sure you research local legislation and logistical challenges very early in the planning process. The best solution to avoid overlooking essential localisation elements of your sales promotion is to partner with experts. They will be aware of all the potential challenges and present proactive solutions that will ensure the smooth running of your campaign. 

Spotlight on Cultural Sensitivity 

Understanding and integrating cultural nuances into your strategy is not just an advantage—it’s a necessity. The process of localisation involves grasping the essence of local customs, values, and behaviours to reflect them in your marketing strategy. This requires marketers to delve into the subtleties that define local preferences and taboos of the audience they want to engage with. We’ve seen how Dolce & Gabbana’s poorly sensitive campaign backlashed, offending and infuriating Chinese consumers. When targeting communities very distant from your own, the challenges are, of course, amplified. In Asia, the tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions requires approaching each country with particular attention. For example, the concept of maintaining dignity and respect is crucial in many Asian societies. So, ensure your messaging doesn’t inadvertently embarrass or disrespect individuals or groups. Colour symbolism also varies significantly across Asia. What is considered auspicious in one country might not have the same connotation in another. In Arab countries, understanding and respecting Islamic values and norms is essential. This includes recognising the importance of religious events and holidays and being mindful of content that could be perceived as disrespectful to Islamic beliefs. 

While you may instinctively pay more attention to cultural nuances in countries you perceive as distant from yours, don’t let your guard down when marketing closer to home. For Halloween 2019, McDonald’s Portugal launched a campaign based on a famous U2 song. Unfortunately, the slogan “Sundae bloody Sundae,” didn’t consider the historical significance of Bloody Sunday in Irish and British history, causing global outrage. This misstep could have been avoided with some cultural and historical research – or simply by reading the song’s lyrics.   

When adapting your global campaign to respect and appeal to a different culture, many aspects require careful consideration. To facilitate your work, we included a list of the most important things to consider:   

  • Language nuances  
  • Important historical dates  
  • Religious beliefs  
  • Cultural symbols  
  • Cultural Heritage and Traditions  
  • Indigenous and minority rights  
  • Local Icons and Heroes 
  • Architectural and natural landmarks  
  • Social norms and values  
  • Local customs and etiquette  
  • Geopolitical situation 
  • Economic situation  

While this list is by no means comprehensive, it can definitely help you steer your marketing campaigns in the right direction. 


Find the Perfect Fit For Your Brand


Balancing universal brand messaging and regional adaptation is another complex and multifaceted aspect. The primary challenge is ensuring that localised content resonates with the target audience’s cultural context without diluting your brand’s core identity. Understanding local consumer behaviours and preferences, employing local experts or agencies to ensure cultural accuracy, and flexible brand guidelines will allow for local nuances while maintaining brand consistency. Starbucks is an excellent example of a global brand that maintains brands consistency while catering to international markets. While offering products and crafting messages that meet local tastes in each country, the company’s identity is always preserved by its modern store designs, well-known logos, and personalised customer experience – after all, who doesn’t like their name on the coffee cup? 

As you can see, there is much to consider when planning your global or local campaign. Your strategy to enter or expand in foreign markets will, of course, be driven by your brand’s sales and marketing objectives. Whatever route you choose, there are aspects of localisation in marketing that cannot be ignored. While, at times, adjusting your campaign to meet local preferences and respect local culture may seem overwhelming, we hope this blog post will help you streamline your strategy.   

But before we leave you and let everything we’ve covered sink in, let’s recap what we’ve learnt from global brand epic failures and glowing successes:  

  • Always do your market research and keep up with the latest global and local trends.  
  • Don’t get lost in translation. Work with local translators and content creators to develop tailored messaging that adheres to cultural norms and values.   
  • Be mindful of cultural sensitivity. Use this blog post as a checklist to tick the most important boxes.  
  • Create local partnerships to get to the core of local communities. Local agencies and professionals will provide precious insights you can’t get from afar.  
  • Be always mindful of local legislation.  
  • Don’t lose your identity. Find a balance between catering to local tastes, respecting local sensitivities, and maintaining your brand’s distinct features and values.  

And if you have questions or need specific help planning localised sales promotions, give us a shout. We’re always happy to understand your challenges and suggest actionable solutions.