cultural awareness = success

The customer is ALWAYS first. This is the first thing that any marketing/PR/advertising class will teach you.

Regardless of what industry you are in, the start of any lucrative product or service starts with knowing who your customers are. Since companies are expanding to other countries, they need to take an extra step with research.  That extra step is to make sure that their products are going to be translated properly while being cognizant of foreign cultural and social norms.

For example, in Japanese, the word “four” sounds like the word death. There is a golf ball manufacturer that decided that they wanted to sell their golf balls in packs of four in Japan, which did not take off because it is considered unlucky to buy. (click here for more examples of brand culture failures)

The same goes for Cantonese, because when I was getting lunch with friends in Hong Kong, I observed that there was not a button for the fourth floor. I only noticed this because the two rows of buttons had a mix of even and odd numbers.  I was a little confused and my friends said that not many buildings have a fourth floor because the word is very similar to death. They even made a term for people that are scared of the number four called tetraphobia. (source)


I understand that little details like avoiding the number four in products used in Asia is quite specific, but this is why research is timely and expensive. In a highly competitive business environment, having the right marketing/PR/advertising team with high cultural awareness is key to going global, because customers are the key to success.


4 thoughts on “cultural awareness = success

  1. That is so interesting. It is so easy to accidentally offend someone from another culture just from lack of awareness of their customs! It seems like maybe more culturally related classes should be implemented for public relations majors!

  2. This was really insightful! I knew that to work internationally, you have to be aware of the culture, but I had no idea that something so small as a number would have such a profound affect on a society!
    You not only hit a crucial topic for PR practitioners, but the real examples also helped a lot too. 🙂

  3. This post is very interesting and so relevant to our industry today! It made me realize how critical it is to be aware of other cultures in order to have a successful global company. Even if we don’t intend to offend another culture, that is an easy mistake to make if proper research isn’t done ahead of time. I also really enjoyed reading the link you provided on brand culture failures. I hope you continue to post on this blog after our assignment is over. I’d love to keep learning about other cultures!

  4. I’m glad someone is writing about global PR! This is a great post! Very insightful and even a little quirky. Not many know about the Asian custom of “avoiding four” (I didn’t even know they didn’t have fourth floors in some elevators). These type of cultural differences are very important for anyone looking to do business in other countries.

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