Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Using animal symbols in marketing - not the cat's meow!

Using animals in marketing can be tricky. We all know strong brands that use animals: Puma, Jaguar and ING bank to name a few. But an animal may have different (and negative) connotations in export countries and other cultures.

In some countries, animals are considered to be a low life form. Using animals to promote eyeglasses is cute in the Western world, but a no-no in Thailand. (See also David A. Ricks "Blunders in International Business")

Based on Greek mythology, the owl in considered to be a symbol of wisdom (it was the favorite bird companion of Pallas Athena). Using an owl is quite common in Europe and the US (with the exception of hooters) for educational software and institutes. However, Asians consider the bird a symbol of stupidity. Not what you want in your marketing campaign!

Muslims consider dogs unclean animals. Any advertisement with cute dogs is therefore bound to fail. The same applies for showing women and men in one advertisement. Head and Shoulders adapted its advisement for the Arab-speaking market.

However, cats are extremely popular in Japan. Just think “Hello Kitty or google one of the many YouTube clips.

Kate Edwards in Multilingual magazine’s August 2011 article, “Animal Symbolism” points out that (animal) symbols need to be managed carefully. “In an increasingly interconnected world, we have to remain diligent in choosing our symbols wisely with the utmost care.”

Before using animals in marketing campaigns, check the local culture. See what kinds of ad campaigns are popular. If a pet is conspicuously missing, there is a sound reason for it. Checking local proverbs is also a good way of checking for cultural sensitivities.

As with all marketing material: think global, but act local!

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