How Nike, Microsoft and Toyota got it wrong

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 30, 2004
It's imperative for MNCs to have an intimate understanding about the social customs, history and geography of the regions that they operate in

In the global village that we live today, it's common for MNCs to source their material from Trinidad, manufacture in Trincomali and sell in Tibet and Thiruvananthapuram.

The scale of operations is maddening. And yet, it's imperative for MNCs to have an intimate understanding about the social customs, history and geography of the regions that they operate in. Otherwise, ignorance leads to total chaos and sometimes peril.

Sportswear giant Nike recently got wiser when China sternly said, "Just don't do it”. It had to do with a Nike commercial which was a part of a global advertising campaign. Featuring NBA player LeBron James successfully dribbling a basket ball past some cartoon characters, the commercial was meant to encourage children to overcome any barriers, symbolised by the cartoon characters, that get in their way

There were, however, two problems with the TVC. The first was that the cartoon figures were representative of famous Chinese icons. The second was that James is an American. In the commercial titled Chamber of Fear, James appears to successfully defeat two dragons, an ancient-looking martial arts teacher complete with long, wispy beard, and two women dressed in traditional Chinese costume " images that were subsequently construed as representing China itself.

Given the nature of the US-China relationship, the TVC did not go down well with the masses. Soon after, China's State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) announced that the advertisement "violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland's culture” and banned the commercial.

Last heard, Nike has tendered an apology for unwittingly hurting Chinese sentiment.

This is not the first time a major MNC has caused offence to the Chinese with its advertising. In 2003, Japanese car company Toyota showed an image of its latest model cruising along a Chinese street while several lion statues " that traditionally stand guard outside imperial buildings " bowing their heads in awe and respect.

Given China's complaint that Japan has never fully apologised for it wartime actions and excesses, and the outright hatred that many Chinese express towards their neighbour, the imagery was seen to be in poor taste.

Even software major Microsoft had a run-in with Chinese authorities a few years back when a cartographical dispute saw Microsoft's Chinese employees being hauled by the government. Microsoft, of course, has a long history of its products being banned in some of the biggest markets on earth.

In 1995, when colouring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft had coloured eight of them in a different shade of green to represent the disputed Kashmiri territory. The difference in greens meant Kashmir was shown as non-Indian, and India literally saw red. The product was promptly banned in India and Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending Windows 95 operating system software to try and heal the diplomatic wounds.

Another social blunder from Microsoft saw chanting of the Koran being used as a soundtrack for a computer game, which greatly offended the Saudi Arabian government. The company later issued a new version of the game without the chanting, while keeping the previous editions in circulation because US staff thought the slip wouldn't be spotted. But the Saudi government banned the game and demanded an apology. Microsoft had to withdraw the game.

The software giant managed to further offend Saudi Arabia by creating another game in which Muslim warriors turned churches into mosques. Even that game had to be withdrawn after protests.

Microsoft has also managed to upset Senoritas. A Spanish-language version of Windows XP, destined for Latin American markets, asked users to select their gender between 'not specified', 'male' or 'bitch', because of an unfortunate error in translation. Another example of lost in translation?

© 2004 agencyfaqs!

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