When you promote a product to a new audience, it’s obvious that you have to take that audience’s sensibilities into account. But what does that mean when your business appeals to specific demographics, cultures, and subcultures?

Cross-cultural marketing requires a thoughtful approach to the context, history, and sensibilities of any given culture or subculture. In some cases, that might mean learning new words. Or you might have to learn a different “marketing language” to resonate with your audience. 

To achieve true cultural diversity in marketing, you have to dig deep into the history behind a different culture, learn what makes it tick, and ultimately align your marketing materials with that new language.

What is cultural marketing?

Cultural marketing is any business endeavor to promote a product or service to a particular demographic. This includes overseas and international cultures but can also refer to minority cultures in your own country. 

To resonate with a demographic, the marketing campaign has to consider the tradition, language, religious upbringing, and history of that culture. For example, travel companies target specific cultures to resonate with why their customers travel for the holidays. It requires a global marketing perspective that embraces traditions across the world.

Consider when Expedia once shared an employee roundup on their social media platforms. They asked employees how they celebrate the Lunar New Year — a bigger event in cultures with Hindu and Buddhist influences. The campaign looked at traditional Lunar New Year dishes and travel plans centered around February 1st, not the January 1st new year, as is traditional in western countries.

Cultural marketing touches on two of the four Ps of marketing: promotion and place. Promotion identifies the cultural touchpoints to align your campaign to the appropriate demographics. After all, you wouldn’t advertise your Christmas trees during a Hanukkah television event. Place means finding where your target demographic spends their time, either offline or online, to prevent wasted advertising dollars.

Why is culture in marketing important?

Integrating cultural knowledge into your marketing efforts is key because you need to engage people in the appropriate context. Otherwise, your message may not resonate the way you hoped.

Think of multicultural marketing as learning to speak a new language. But rather than conjugating verbs, you’re picking up on the social cues and habits that define different demographic influences. 

Anyone in international business knows that what may be acceptable in one culture turns into a faux pas in another. For example, when the Australian TV anchor Karl Stefanovic attempted a joke with the Dalai Lama (“the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says, ‘make me one with everything’”), the joke didn’t translate. Said Stefanovich: “He didn’t know what pizza was.”

When marketing to your native culture, it’s easy to take cultural assumptions for granted. You have the same baseline experiences, the same influences, and speak the same cultural languages. Effective multicultural marketing strategy requires humbling yourself and your team as you learn to move across boundaries.

Great cross-cultural marketing examples

1. 100% Pure New Zealand

To drive visits to their native country, Tourism New Zealand had to accomplish two things. First, they had to reach across cultural boundaries to show the appeal of New Zealand to an international audience. Second, they had to incorporate every local culture that helps make New Zealand unique.

Their “New Zealand Welcome” campaign accomplished both with a clever fusing of the two goals. They focused their subject on something any culture will resonate with — something as simple as a sunrise. 

Then Tourism New Zealand invited people all across the country to submit their own sunrise greetings with the hashtag #goodmorningworldnz. The result? A video highlighting the broad spectrum of cultural diversity within New Zealand — while still emphasizing the unity and beauty of a country with universal appeal.

2. Procter and Gamble: “My Black is Beautiful” Campaign

Procter and Gamble’s television campaign “The Talk” included a frank look at the history of racism in the western world. But rather than paint African-American culture with an overly simplistic brush, the commercial showed a diverse range of individuals and circumstances. 

It revealed a deeper understanding of the reasons behind their hashtag #TalkAboutBias. The TV spot was clearly the result of a thoughtful approach to the double standards and racial biases in our society. A lesser campaign may have shied away from the frank conversations in the ad. Procter and Gamble did not.

3. Target: “Cada Momento Vale Más”

Sometimes multicultural marketing requires speaking another language — but only figuratively. Target’s Cada Momento Vale Más campaign took real demographic numbers into account, realizing there are over 40 million people in the U.S. who speak Spanish at home. 

When Target launched its campaign, it included both Spanish and English language ads. Target even changed the music in its campaigns depending on the demographic targets. For English-language ads, the campaign featured hits by Mary J. Blige. For Spanish-language ads, they shifted to the Brazilian artist Anitta.

What are the challenges of cross-cultural marketing?

Based on these successful cross-cultural marketing examples, it might seem like avoiding multicultural marketing is the only mistake a business can make. Of course you should reach out to other cultures to expand your business’s boundaries and build a more inclusive marketing plan

But doing so isn’t without its risks, particularly if you go about it in the wrong way. Even well-intentioned campaigns can have unintended consequences, including:

“Lost in translation” mistakes
Translating from one language to another is not a challenge. But finding an effective cultural translation is another thing entirely. For example, during Coca-Cola’s initial entries into the Chinese market, its marketers looked for Chinese characters to spell out “Coca-Cola” as accurately as possible. 

The problem? As written, the characters actually meant “bite the wax tadpole.” 

It’s not enough to perform literal translation. Your company has to understand the cultural and historical context behind every campaign.

Superficial mistakes

To borrow an example from another cola company, Pepsi ran into a cultural blunder with its 2017 Super Bowl ad

In the ad, the gift of a Pepsi from a prominent celebrity seemed to suggest that deep-mired cultural issues could be rooted out with a nice gesture from a reality star. The commercial featured celebrity Kendall Jenner gifting a Pepsi to a police officer supervising a protest, solving the turmoil in the background. 

Rather than striking the right chord, the ad came across as blind to the complex realities behind the Black Lives Matter movement, which inspired many worldwide protests that year.

Ignoring cultural context

To borrow another example from Procter and Gamble, the company once launched an advertisement that featured a woman taking a bath. The woman’s husband entered the bathroom and gave her a massage. The ad performed well in Europe, where cultural norms generally accepted the scene. 

In Japan, however, audiences were confused as to why the husband would violate the wife’s privacy in such a brazen way — the ad was seen as racy, inappropriate, and in poor taste. They’d failed to take different cultural norms into account.

How to use Wrike to manage a multicultural marketing campaign

The question isn’t whether you should take a thoughtful, complex approach to multicultural marketing when attempting to reach a new demographic. You already know the importance of culture in marketing. The question is how you achieve a thoughtful approach.

The first step is to make the marketing campaign as simple to run as possible. For example, if you reach out to different cultural experts across the world, you’ll need a singular dashboard that keeps everyone in communication with each other. 

Wrike’s marketing campaign management template makes it easy for a remote worker on the other side of the planet to tag a project manager whenever there’s a potential issue with your approach.

The next step is to double-check your cultural research. Use Wrike’s operations management templates and build a custom request form whenever a representative of that culture needs to add their input. You should also build a diverse team of multiple voices to ensure a balanced approach to your marketing campaigns. Add team members to each layer of your project management with a custom workflow that runs every new idea by the people who need to hear it.

Finally, consider the PESTLE acronym as you move ahead with a project. This acronym is an ideal way to consider the whole context of your marketing environment. Don’t launch your new campaign until you’ve considered the following:

  • P: Political factors
  • E: Economic factors
  • S: Social and demographic factors
  • T: Technological advancement factors
  • L: Legal and regulatory factors
  • E: Environmental factors

It’s not enough to consider just one of these factors and call it a day. Effective project management is about bringing in multiple viewpoints — from experts and team members to stakeholders — and disseminating them into cohesive strategic steps. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to multicultural marketing. It requires an adaptable, unique approach for every new project. That’s where effective collaboration comes in. 

Try out Wrike today and discover why so many people rely on our collaborative work platform to turn large, complex projects into actionable workflows.