Cultural Sensitivity
in Business
The World is Getting Smaller
• Businesses communicate, meet, and do business
now more than ever
• Few businesses can escape international business
• Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India, Korea are some
of the world’s largest economies
• We cannot treat them our way or they may cut us out
Business Etiquette
• Is about building relationships with people
• In the business world, it is people that influence your success or
• If you feel comfortable around someone and vice versa, better
communication and mutual trust will develop
• Business etiquette revolves around two things
1. Thoughtful consideration of the interests and feelings of others
2. Minimizing misunderstandings
6 Keys to Success
1. Behavior
• Your manners and attitude will say a lot about you
• Appropriate business etiquette promotes positive traits (not being selfish,
undisciplined, showing no people skills)
2. Honesty
• A reputation for integrity is slowly gained but quickly lost
• Understanding a particular country’s business etiquette provides a starting point
3. Character
• Your character refers to what you as an individual bring to the business table
• Knowing when to be passionate and not emotional or self-confident without
being arrogant
• Learning another’s business etiquette you demonstrate an open-mindedness
which will earn respect.
6 Keys to Success
4. Sensitivity
• Must be sensitive and considerate
• By avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations through business
etiquette you lay foundations for a strong business relationship.
5. Diplomacy
• Avoiding thoughtless words and actions protects you from negative
• Impulse often leads a business person astray
• Must have careful thought of the interests of others and choose acceptable
forms of expression
Dress appropriately
Standing and sitting in the right place at the right time
Good posture and looking physically presentable
• Culture comes in many shapes and
• It includes areas such as politics,
history, faith, mentality, behavior and
• The following examples demonstrate
how a lack of cultural sensitivity has led
to failure
• Microsoft Windows 95 had a “Map” feature
• When working on the map of India they accidentally shaded the
disputed Kashmiri territory a different shade of green
• The difference in greens meant Kashmir was shown as nonIndian
• The product was promptly banned in India
• Microsoft was left to recall all 200,000 copies of the offending
Windows 95 operating system software to try and heal the
diplomatic wounds
• It cost them millions
• McDonald's spent thousands on a new TV ad to
target the Chinese consumer. The ad showed a
Chinese man kneeling before a McDonald's
vendor and begging him to accept his expired
discount coupon
• The ad was pulled due to a lack of cultural
sensitivity on McDonald's behalf. The ad caused
uproar over the fact that begging is considered a
shameful act in the Chinese culture.
• A nice example of how pictures
don't translate well across
cultures is the time staff at the
African port of Stevadores saw
the 'internationally recognized'
symbol for "fragile" (i.e. broken
wine glass) and presumed it
was a box of broken glass
• Rather than waste space they
threw all the boxes into the sea
• When the US firm Gerber started selling
baby food in Africa they used the same
packaging as in the US (A picture of baby
on label)
• Sales flopped and they soon realized that
in Africa companies typically place
pictures of contents on their labels.
• Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in South
East Asia by emphasizing that it "whitens your
• They found out that the local natives chew betel
nuts to blacken their teeth which they find
• The film "Hollywood Buddha"
showed a complete lack of
cultural sensitivity by causing
outrage and protest on the streets
of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Burma
when the designer of the film's
poster decided to show the lead
actor sitting on the Buddha's head
• An act of clear degradation
against something holy
• The concept of Big Brother was
somehow taken to the Middle
• The show was pulled of the air
after its first few episodes due to
public protests and pressure
from religious bodies stating the
show's male/female format was
against Islamic principles.
• A golf ball manufacturing company packaged
golf balls in packs of four for convenient
purchase in Japan
• Unfortunately, the number 4, like the number
13 here, is said to sound like the word "death“
• The company had to repackage the product
• The business world is littered with poor
translations that have caused great
embarrassment to their perpetrators
due to their lack of cultural sensitivity.
The following are some of the choicest
• IKEA once tried to sell a workbench
called FARTFULL - not a hugely
popular product for obvious reasons.
• Both Clairol and the Irish alcoholic drink Irish
Mist did not properly consider the German
language when they launched their products
• Clairol's hair-curling iron "Mist Stick" and the
drink "Irish Mist" both flopped - why?
• 'Mist' translates in German as "manure"
• U.S. and British negotiators found themselves
at a standstill when the American company
proposed that they "table" particular key
• In the U.S. "Tabling a motion" means to not
discuss it, while the same phrase in Great
Britain means to "bring it to the table for
• A new facial cream with the name "Joni"
was proposed for marketing in India
• They changed the name since the word
translated in Hindi meant "female
• A soft drink was introduced into Arab countries
with an attractive label that had stars on it--sixpointed stars. The Arabs interpreted this as
pro-Israeli and refused to buy it.
• Another label was printed in ten languages,
one of which was Hebrew--again the Arabs did
not buy it.
• When Pepsi co advertised Pepsi in
Taiwan with the ad "Come Alive With
• They had no idea that it would be
translated into Chinese as "Pepsi brings
your ancestors back from the dead."
• In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes
Tonic Water translated the name into
• "Schweppes Toilet Water."
• Traficante is an Italian brand of mineral
water. In Spanish, it means drug dealer
• Volkswagen named the sedan version
of Golf the Jetta. However, the letter "J"
doesn't exist in the Italian alphabet, so
Jetta is pronounced "Ietta", which
means Misfortune
• Coors had its
slogan, "Turn it
• translated into
Spanish, it became
"Suffer from
Cultural Sensitivity
• These problems could easily have been avoided with basic
research on the target market –
– Checking the concept
– Design, shape, color, packaging, message or name
• It is simply assumed that 'if it is OK for us it is OK for them‘
• Key to success in international business - cultural sensitivity
from personal interaction and relationships with clients to the
products/services developed
• Choose a partner to work with and a country
• Research the culture of that country (refer to the 6
steps to success to find out information).
• See if you can find any instances of products being
marketed wrong in that country (not including the
examples from class).
– And/or examples of cultural things that could cause a
• You will receive 20 points for typing out your
information/research you found with sources.
• Work with a partner and choose a country
• Research different cultural aspects that could come
up in a business situation. And/or examples of
situations that have already occurred (like I had)
• Give a summary of the issue(s) and which of the 6
keys to success it matches up with. (HINT it could be
more than one)
• Type or write out your summary and turn it in. You
should be able to find multiple examples if you pick a
larger country.

Cultural Sensitivity in Business