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humour across cultures

How You Can Use Humour to Break Cultural Boundaries

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Four years ago this November, I was on a date with a lovely Japanese businesswoman in downtown Shibuya, Tokyo. Desperate to impress, and wary about breaking some sort of cultural taboo, I started chatting about humour in different languages. I tried to explain how well-regarded English humour is around Europe. “Ok” she replied, “Tell me a joke”.

In a blind panic, I dived into an almost word-for-word rendition of Monty Python’s famous ‘Buying a bed’ sketch. It was an Oscar-worthy performance, certainly one of my best. When I’d finished, I waited patiently for the obligatory fit of giggles. Instead, I got a long awkward silence, broken only by my own yammering.

“You know, I guess it’s much funnier when you watch them do it.”

We looked at each other for a long, silent moment. And then, sharing in the awkwardness, we burst into tears of laughter together.

That day I learned an important lesson about humour across cultures. So much of what we find funny is socially ingrained. Our sense of humour is deeply rooted in our nationhood, our shared view of the world, and the norms that are so familiar to us, but so foreign to others. But there are deeper levels of humour – comedic elements that cross boundaries and tap into something universally human. Knowing the difference can be the key to capturing the comedic imagination of your audience, no matter where they are from.

 

Do you need to be funny?

One point that is universal is that watching a person trying too hard to be funny is almost never funny, no matter where you’re from. At the very best, it’s funny only in a pitying, ironic way, and only then in certain cultures. Although our desire to entertain might drive us to think of something quirky and creative, a misstep can quickly lead to awkwardness and disaster. The easiest way to be boring is to try to be funny all the time.

Before you start, ask yourself the important question: “Do I really need humour to get my message across?”. Once the pressure to be funny is off, you may find that jokes grow organically from the conversation.

This is especially important when it comes to humour in advertising. There’s nothing more groan-inducing than a TV spot that desperately claws at a joke as a way to engage and entertain its audience. But when you have a funny message to relate and you tell it in an honest way, you’re likely to uncover an unexpected wit in your work. Check out the story of how Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like‘ campaign was brought to life. This piece that virtually defined viral humour in marketing didn’t even start out as a joke.

 

The bar is lower than you think

Humour across cultures - guy spinning over his head

We often make the mistake of thinking that humour is performative ­– that we need to think of something clever, outrageous, or provocative to make someone laugh. In actual fact, most people are predisposed to finding things funny. Given the chance, we all want to laugh. This means that the thought and effort required to make a situation funny is a lot less than you might think. Instead of forcing it, you simply need to understand why something might be funny and let the humour shine through.

 

What makes something funny?

humour across cultures - guy being funny with a stick in his head - be happy

Given the diverse range of cultural differences in humour, it’s difficult to imagine that there is a universal formula for what makes something funny. Over at the Humour Research Lab at the University of Boulder, Colorado, however, they’ve managed to take a convincing crack.

Peter McGraw’s fantastic TEDx talk illustrates that anything funny always has two components; it must be unthreatening and it must subvert your expectations. If you take away a joke’s benign nature or it’s element of surprise, you end up with something that’s unfunny at best and downright creepy at worst.

If you’re looking to work humour into any of your work, McGraw’s formula is a great place to start. Think carefully about how you can subvert the expectations of your audience in a light, unthreatening way. What surprises people, however, is very likely to vary from place to place, culture to culture. Let’s jump into exploring some different ways that jokesters subvert expectations throughout the world.

We asked a handful of talented people from different countries how they would describe humour at home. Their answers provide a fascinating insight into the differences among cultures. But more than this, they help to underline the universal aspects of what makes things funny.

 

Humour in Europe

european humour - humour across cultures - map europe

With its complex political history and broad variation in cultures, it’s difficult to sum up the European sense of humour in anything smaller than a textbook. Nevertheless, there are a few strings of commonality that bring us all together.

In Britain, we love to laugh at ourselves, and much of our humour is delivered at the expense of the teller. We also tend towards deep levels of irony, and love jokes that push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable.

 

‘Did you hear about the guy who had his entire left side cut off? He’s all right now.’

 

In France, Spain, and Austria, regional satire is extremely popular and often fuelled by competitive relationships between districts and countries.

 

-¿Qué hace un catalán cuando tiene frío?  (What does a Catalan do when it’s cold?)

-Se acerca a la estufa. (He gets close to the heater.)

-¿Y cuando tiene mucho frío. (And when it’s very cold?)

-La enciende. (Turn it on.)

 

In Germany, political satire and social taboos are often at the crux of comedy, as is clever wordplay and double entendre.

german joke

‘I just told a friend a joke about lemonade. Fanta/found it funny.’ In German, ‘Fanta’ and ‘Fand er’ (found it) sound similar when pronounced.

 

Polish people love bitter and sarcastic jokes, the subtleties of which are often lost on other nationalities.

Of all these different approaches to humour, the one thing that binds us all is satire. For us in Europe, comedy is an excuse to play with and ridicule the structures that hold us in place.

 

Humour in Russia

russian square

Though the Russian temperament can seem dower on the surface, in fact it hides a deep love of laughter. Much Russian humour is tightly bound to the subtleties of the language, and so can often be extremely difficult to translate. Nevertheless, with a little explanation it’s possible to see the clever and surprising Russian wit shine through.

Take this clever joke based on a well-known proverb:

 

‘Без труда не вытащишь и рыбку из пруда’ ‘Without an effort, you won’t even pull a fish out of a pond’; or in English ‘No pain, no gain’.

So the joke based on the proverb is:  Без пруда не вытащишь и рыбки из него ‘Without a pond, you won’t pull a fish out of it’

 

Humour in Asia

Asian street showcasing humour in Asia

Comedy is often deeply rooted in language. As such, the vast linguistic differences that pervade across the Asian continent make similarities in two countries’ approach to humour especially rare.

In Chinese humour, jokes are often deeply embedded into the multi-level meanings of the Chinese writing system, which uses characters that change their meaning depending on the grammatical context. The Chinese language, therefore, is the perfect place for clever puns and wordplay.

 

單身的原因有兩個:一是誰都看不上,二是誰都看不上。

‘There are two reasons why you are single: first is nobody is good enough for you; second is you are not good enough for anybody.’

 

Japanese humour, too, frequently uses puns, though they’re often referred to as ‘old man’ jokes with a groan and a sigh. The Japanese also love to tell long, comical stories, called Rakugo that feature foolish characters and awkward social faux pas.

Indian humour is diverse and difficult to pin down but often revolves around the roasting of certain individuals or groups, especially those from rival regions or with different daily practices. You’re also likely to hear people in India making fun of their own cultural practices and traditions; this is much more likely to occur in groups of younger people, for whom certain activities seem outdated. There is also a big spin on typical family scenarios, and humour in the media maximises on this as it is universally applicable to those from all walks of life. For example, a TV son who gets married to an ‘overly modern’ woman can spark enough jokes to last many months, usually based around the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law rivalry, with the son caught in the middle.

In Korea, comedians love to play with the idea of personas and societal roles, often putting on an act to make funny, yet well-meaning, observations about others.

 

Humour in US & Canada

american street

The USA and Canada are both hugely influential in the field of entertainment and have a diverse range of different comedic styles. In general, though, you can expect humour from the US to be fast-paced, with a lot derived from stereotypes and ethnic differences. American humour also loves to play on the absurdity of seemingly normal events, or to inject absurdity into the mundane. By contrast, Canadian humour often focuses on light satire, irony, and parody.

 

Humour in South America

south american beach - humour in south america

With Spanish and Portuguese being the predominant languages in South America, much of their humour is shared with their European cousins. This doesn’t mean, however, that each country won’t have its own unique flavours of comedy. Brazilians might describe their humour as sarcastic, dry, or a touch on the dark side. In Mexico, mockery is used as a way to break tension and build affectionate relationships. Mexicans also pride themselves on their political-incorrectness and ability to make light of nearly everything. Argentinian humour, by contrast, is littered with references to their history and national identity.

 

¿Por qué los mexicanos no pueden jugar billar?… porque se comen los tacos.

Why Mexicans can’t play pool?…because they eat all tacos.

 

Rounding up

Humour is an intensely human habit. It’s our way of showing affection, of breaking boundaries, and of sharing in common belief systems. And although somebody’s sense of humour may seem alien, impenetrable, or downright odd at first glance, it only takes a little patience and persistence to be able to see the commonalities in all of us. If you’re exploring the humour around the world, never take it at face value, and always seek to understand the elements that make a joke surprising yet benign. They may be more subtle than they first appear. Keep this in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to using humour for global brand success.

 

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16 Inspirational Quotes About Language

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Languages put our worlds in focus, give structure to our thoughts and help us to communicate with the people around us. They are fluid concepts, built from our heritage, our people and our interactions with the world, growing and changing to keep up with the modern day whilst reminding us of our past. These quotes are just some of the many amazing ways we can appreciate the depth, variety and power of understanding language and the people behind it.

 

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves.

A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers” by Cesar Chavez.

To have another language is to possess a second soul” by Charlemagne.

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two” by Geoffrey Willans.

Everybody smiles in the same language by George Carlin.

 

Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation” by Jalaluddin Rumi.

The art of communication is the language of leadership” by James Humes.

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

 

The difference between the almost right word and the right word

is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” by Mark Twain.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” by Nelson Mandela.

 

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed,

but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied.

Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation” by Noam Chomsky.

 

If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something,

it seems to me you should use their language, the language in which they think” by David Ogilvy.

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow

by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Language is the road map of a culture.

It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” by Rita Mae Brown.

 

Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom” by Roger Bacon.

French is the language that turns dirt into romance” by Stephen King.

 

The limits of my language means the limits of my world” by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Read also our post on culture quotes here

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Colours in Advertising: How can Colours Affect your Marketing Campaign?

  |   CultureShocks Blog

For a transcreation project to succeed, it is vital to think beyond simply words. The right choice of wording will accurately convey the message of your marketing campaign, but brand appeal is a jigsaw that comprises many parts. From culture to culture, the number of pieces in this jigsaw varies depending on where you are in the world, perceptions of a brand or a product can be affected not just by the words that are used, but by the choice of certain numbers, cultural affiliations, political factors, gender representations, images and even colours in advertising too.

 

In Japan, for example, camera maker Olympus followed its E-PL3 system with E-PL5 with the number 4 considered unlucky, while Renault’s R17 model became R177 in Italy, where the number 17 is feared. Meanwhile, Heineken’s special beer bottles created for the 2004 football World Cup, featuring the flags of the competition’s finalists, were withdrawn after complaints from Saudi Arabia. The country’s flag features the Quran, and the association of a non-drinking nation’s holy book with an alcohol brand caused more harm than good.

 

Similarly, colours can also make or break a brand’s mission to succeed overseas. While a brand or product’s existing colour palette may have positive connotations in some cultures, it may have the power to damage the brand in others.

When it comes to the use of colour in overseas marketing campaigns, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work. Careful consideration of colour in advertising – and colour combinations – can spell the difference between brand failure and brand magic.

 

Five colours to avoid in your global advertising campaign

The association of colours with different emotions, actions or cultural elements is nothing new. In the UK, the colour red is often used as a warning, such as on “Stop” signs or traffic lights, or to represent love, as used commercially by a multitude of brands on Valentine’s Day. Similarly, green may evoke a sense of environmental friendliness, pink may symbolise femininity, and black can translate as stylish and sleek, or as funereal, depending on the circumstances.

Certain countries – or even regions within specific countries – attribute different values to different colours, just as they do with numbers, as shown above. Here are five examples of countries where particular colours may spell out disaster for brands looking to internationalise.

 

Green for Chinese men: In China, the sight of a man in a green hat is rare, as the colour symbolises a man who has been cuckolded by his wife. Phonetically, “wearing a green hat” sounds similar to the word for “cuckold” – and stories tell of how families of prostitutes during the Yuan Dynasty were forced to wear green hats to show their status.

 colours in advertising - green colour in China - man with a green hat

Image from Flickr

 

Red in South Africa: To South Africans, red is a colour that signifies violence, sacrifice and mourning. It appears as one of the six colours that make up the country’s national flag and, according to the designer, the red symbolises blood that was shed during the sacrifices and wars that frequent South African history.

 colours in advertising - red colour in south africa - southafrican flag

Image from Pixabay

 

Purple in Thailand: While in some countries the colour purple can represent attributes such as wealth, royalty and even Catholic penitence, in Thailand its significance is very different. The colour purple is worn when mourning – particularly by women whose spouses have passed away.

 colours in advertising - purple colour in thailand - thai mouning

Image from Taipei Times

 

Yellow in France: For many cultures in the Western world, yellow is a colour that signifies warmth, cheeriness and positive feelings. For other countries, this is not so true. In France, its connotations are more sinister, evoking thoughts of weakness, contradiction, betrayal and jealousy. In the 10th century, French criminals’ and traitors’ doors were daubed in yellow paint, clearly marking their shortcomings for all to see.

 colours in advertising - yellow colour in France - yellow wall

Image from Pixabay

 

Orange in Northern Ireland: While associations with the Dutch royalty and happiness and spirituality in Eastern countries are positive for the colour orange, it can be divisive. In Northern Ireland, it is the colour of Protestant organisation The Orange Order. Use of this colour by brands could alienate around half of the population, who are staunchly Catholic.

 colours in advertising - orange colour in northern irlenad

Image from The Flag Shop

 

Care must be taken during the transcreation process: national colours and those representing certain behaviours, feelings and characteristics have the potential to draw consumers in, be perceived as inappropriate for the brand or the product or even cause a great deal of offence, depending on the way in which they are used in marketing campaigns.

 

Colour combinations to stay away from

For some brands, adhering to such colour psychology in advertising is simply a case of shifting to a new colour palette for markets where their existing palette will not work. Sedona, Arizona, for example, is home to the only branch of McDonalds whose golden arches are blue, thanks to strict regulations regarding the spoilage of the area’s beautiful scenery with garish colours.

While this is one option for brands looking to refocus their advertising colours for local markets, it could potentially lead to an unpleasant clash of hues. There are five such combinations that marketers should take care to avoid.

 

  • Blue, magenta or yellow on red: A red background can prove overpowering, making it tough to balance with other hues. These colour combinations can also cause dizziness if stared at for too long.
  • Red, blue or purple on black: The combination of red and black often creates a “Goth” or Halloween feel, while purple or blue on black can be unreadable.
  • Neon or rainbow hues: While such combinations will grab attention, they also have the ability to tire viewers’ eyes and irritate rather than excite.
  • Yellow or green on white: The combination of light text and a light background may prove hard to read, with grey or black proving better pairings for a white background.
  • Coloured text, and a textured background: Coloured text placed directly on a background that is textured will render it unreadable.

Successful colour-based transcreation campaigns

The successful use of colour for cross-border brand and product launches can be a minefield. When Pepsi Cola changed the colour of its Southeast Asian vending machines from a darker to a lighter blue, the new colour’s association with mourning destroyed its dominant market share.

However, successful international launches are certainly possible. Coca Cola, for example, feature heavy use of the colour red in their brand assets, but have transcended its negative connotations in certain parts of the globe to create continuity across cultures, and a brand identity that is recognised the world over.

In the hot drinks market, tea brand Lipton has successfully entered over 110 markets, with particular popularity in Europe, the Middle East, North America and parts of Asia. The brand’s distinctive yellow and red colour palette is used the world over, but its campaigns are designed to be globally appropriate and applicable to each of its individual markets. A browse through individual country websites for the brand reveals that while the classic yellow dominates throughout, other imagery is designed to reflect the culture and colour preferences of the nation in question.

 

Lipton US

colours in advertising - lipton en usa

Lipton India

colours in advertising - lipton en india

Lipton Netherlands

colours in advertising - lipton in netherlands

Lipton Brazil

 colours in advertising - lipton in brazil

In Egypt in 2017, the brand captured the imagination of its audience still further when it reinvented the packaging in a monochrome design for Ramadan, standing out in a brightly coloured category at a time of year known for its colourful lanterns and street decorations.

colours in advertising lipton monocrome

When it comes to how advertising affects us, there are many things to consider during a transcreation campaign. Language, imagery, symbolism and culture all have a part to play, but colour must also be considered. With different colours evoking different emotions and events across the globe, simply transferring your standard colour palette to another country may not be enough: it is important to work with local talents who understand that nation’s culture and beliefs to ensure success.

 

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insightful quotes about cutlure

19 Insightful Quotes About Culture

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Every country, every community are strongly tied together by an intricate tapestry of individual values, norms and a specific history, so to understand their culture is to understand them. Speaking to a person in a way which is sensitive to their own distinct, unique culture enables a brand to not only elicit the intended emotional response through branded communications, but also shows that the brand can be trusted to understand their consumer.

Culture and its impact on the communities it was born of is a beautiful, multifaceted entity which gives strength, identity and purpose to its people, and these culture quotes explore the reasons why we emphasise obtaining a true insight into the cultures we help brands to speak to.

 

culture quote - Culture is the name for what people are interested in, their thoughts, their models, the books they read and the speeches they hear, their table-talk, gossip, controversies, historical sense and scientific training, the values they appreciate, the quality of life they admire. All communities have a culture. It is the climate of their civilization.

“Culture is the name for what people are interested in, their thoughts, their models,

the books they read and the speeches they hear” by Walter Lippmann.

culture quote - the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people

“The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.”

culture quotes - culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs” by Thomas Wolfe.

culture quote - strength lies in differences not in similarities

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” by Stephen R. Covey.

culture quote - Never judge someone By the way he looks Or a book by the way it's covered; For inside those tattered pages, There's a lot to be discovered

“Never judge someone by the way he looks or a book by the way it’s covered;
For inside those tattered pages, there’s a lot to be discovered” by Stephen Cosgrove.

culture quote - One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be,

rather than being yourself” by Shannon L. Alder.

culture quote The crucial differences which distinguish human societies and human beings are not biological. They are cultural.

“The crucial differences which distinguish human societies and human beings

are not biological. They are cultural.” by Ruth Benedict.

culture quote - “Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.

“Cultural differences should not separate us from each other,

but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity” by Robert Alan.

culture quote - You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.

Just get people to stop reading them.” by Ray Bradbury.

culture quote - Culture is a way of coping with the world by defining it in detail.

“Culture is a way of coping with the world by defining it in detail.” by Malcolm Bradbury.

culture quote - No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people” by Mahatma Gandhi.

culture quote - We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race."

We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin,

but we all belong to one human race” by Kofi Annan.

culture quote - “Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore
never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a
most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.” by John Hume.

culture quote - Every man's ability may be strengthened or increased by culture.

“Every man’s ability may be strengthened or increased by culture” by John Abbot.

culture quote - If we are to preserve culture we must continue to create it.   

If we are to preserve culture we must continue to create it” by Johan Huizinga.

cultural quote - Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages, remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.

“Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm.

But try to march together with men of different languages,

remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.” by  Hélder Câmara.

culture quote - Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, aren't even aware of.

“Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds.

The most powerful ones are those we can’t even describe, aren’t even aware of” by Ellen Goodman.

culture quote - Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.

“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.

This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future” by Albert Camus.

culture quote - We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own.

For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent,

but which were given to us by our society” by Alam W. Watts.

 

When we become the transcreation partner of a brand, we ensure that all our services have deep roots in the culture of each target market. Our project managers connect with a network of in-house language specialists who become their trusted knowledge-base to ensure all assets are produced with a true understanding of the market’s consumer mindset.

Find out more about our transcreation and languages services here.

 

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japanese entertainment and how the xbox failed to localise in japan

How the Xbox Failed to Capture Japan

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Following the much anticipated reveal of their latest console, codenamed project Scorpio, Microsoft chose the E3 conference to unveil the Xbox One X. Given that this new, formidable spec will easily make this the most powerful console on the market, being 4k and VR enabled, it is unsurprising that there is global excitement in the gaming communities to give this baby a whirl. However, there is one place that the Xbox brand has never been able to gain a solid foothold: Japan.

Since the release of the original Xbox in Japan sales have lagged, with cheaper and weaker consoles taking up the market share. As the Japanese gaming market was estimated at being worth $12.4 billion in 2016, making it the 3rd largest in the world, it would be hugely detrimental for Microsoft to continue to allow this disconnect to stand. The question to ask is, what chance will the Xbox One X have of gaining cut-through if Microsoft are unable to address the fundamental issues they have with engaging the Japanese gaming communities?

 

Are Japanese loyal to local products?

The most commonly cited excuse is that Japanese consumers are typically hostile to foreign products, with their intense brand loyalty to the ‘home-grown’ giving Playstation the significant edge. This doesn’t ring true however, in that there are several examples of foreign companies dominating the market in Japan. Amongst these is in fact Microsoft, as their PC Windows platform is being employed on more than half the computers in Japan and by almost double the number of users of their nearest competitor, Apple.

Apple themselves have also seen huge success in the Japanese smartphone market. With smartphone use at almost 94% in the country, the iPhone has an amazing 51.7% of market share. As hard as it might be for Xbox marketers to admit, they cannot hide behind excuses, but have clearly failed to present their product in a way that engages with the Japanese market. One problem Xbox are still struggling with, and where the Microsoft OS and Apple smartphone have excelled, is the assurance of exceptional product quality which is integral to attracting the Japanese consumer.

 

Xbox vs Playstation: quality vs variety

The Xbox brand suffered a cataclysmic blow with the Xbox 360 ‘Red Ring of Death’ saga. The severe overheating issue which cost Microsoft around £1.15 billion and resulted in consoles needing to be replaced became an international news story, tarnishing the consumer trust in the Xbox brand. With Playstations lasting for 10 years without problems, the comparison would have only confirmed Japanese consumer’s beliefs that their money would be more wisely invested in Playstation.

Microsoft’s next launch, the Xbox One, would have been a huge opportunity to regain consumer trust, but sadly this too failed to capture the hearts of the Japanese consumers. Despite quality trumping localisation, when given the choice between two quality consoles, the general consensus indicates that the Japanese market has been swayed by the much larger library of games, both Western and Japanese, from Sony. By refusing to localise their offering, Microsoft are already alienating this market and losing their share of a vast gaming industry.

 

Did Xbox do right with localisation?

Stylistically, the Japanese game designers take a very different approach to storytelling than Western creators, meaning Western games are not necessarily going to connect as well with the Japanese audience. Deviating from the Western market’s love for the first-person shooter genre, the Japanese games industry skews heavily towards the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) and slower paced, narrative driven Japanese video games. As is true of all consumer groups, Japanese audiences value feeling like brands are directly addressing their needs and values, but by excluding these from their catalogue, Microsoft show they are not strategising with the Japanese gamer in mind but maintaining a Western-centric approach within their local market.

 

Cultural factors are paramount

To gain a deeper understanding of what other cultural factors might inhibit this brand’s appeal translating into the Japanese market, we asked one of our expert Japanese transcreators for their opinion on what’s stopping the Xbox brand from connecting with their market:

“Firstly, Microsoft made a huge blunder by bundling the Xbox One with the Kinect, a motion detector that could also be activated through voice commands. For this technology to be successful it must always be left on. This fails to understand fundamental Japanese cultural factors such as the importance of privacy. An always on system is unappealing to most Japanese households because it’s a constant surveillance which naturally is incredibly intrusive.

Secondly, most Japanese apartments are so small there is almost no room to utilise the motion reactivity which is a key selling point of the Xbox One. There’s certainly no room to sufficiently move around for games such as Dance Central.

The design sensibilities of the Xbox series are clearly based on a western lifestyle and consistently fail to take into account an average Japanese person’s living conditions and environment. If Microsoft are unable to target the Japanese market with a more nuanced approach, I would have sincere doubts about the new console seeing any more success than its predecessors.”

 

How to connect with the Japanese market?

At the very least, Xbox are trying to address the issue of ignoring the Japanese viewpoint on their consoles. Xbox division head Phil Spencer’s recent trip to Japan has been publicised as a way that they are trying to connect with and gain credibility within the Japanese market. By getting Japanese game developers on board and discussing their anticipation of the latest console launch, Spencer seems to be attempting to quell the consistent fear that Xbox will continue to neglect the Japanese games market. Unfortunately, this also comes with the news that a number of games, including Nier, will not be available on Xbox.

The question that remains is can Xbox overcome the many blunders it has had in Japan since the first Xbox and regain its reputation? Even if they do manage to do that they will still have to prove that the Xbox One X is worth buying over the Playstation, which still appears to be far more in tune with its home audience.

 

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Advertising facts from all over the world - a textappeal Infographic

Advertising Facts From All Over The World

  |   CultureShocks Blog

For advertising to really hit home in its respective markets, its vital to have the subtlety and depth of understanding of the culture behind the words. Some brands navigate this beautifully, bringing their voice and message into the hearts and minds of consumers around the world, whilst others fall woefully short of the mark with comical blunders. By not considering the idiosyncrasies of the markets they want to tap into, brands can find the message they have worked hard to tailor to their audience becomes disastrously lost in translation.

 

Some brands have really struggled to ensure their advertising campaigns navigate the cultural differences across target markets. Messaging, imagery and ideas which work in their central market might not have the same resonance or associations with consumers in say Argentina or South Korea. If you’re looking to connect with your global consumer base, these cross-cultural barriers need to be addressed and overcome, and who better to help with that than local transcreation talent. This infographic presents just a few of the interesting and funny advertising facts from around the world which showcase the individuality of specific markets.

 

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Advertising facts from all over the world - textappeal infographic

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10 reasons you should translate your website

10 Reasons Why You Should Translate Your Website

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Content production takes tremendous strategy, effort, and analysis. Crafting blogs, infographics, image quotes, and related materials that garner attention, educates, and convinces consumers takes serious finesse. You also have to ensure that articles and social posts are more effective than the competition and still adhere to SEO best practices. Tackling all these nuances feels like a herculean task.

Considering content creation is an increasingly challenging undertaking, shouldn’t you try to get the most out of your materials?

Then consider translating your content into other languages to reach new audiences. There’s no reason why everything you create can’t go global.

English, despite being spoken by roughly 1.5 billion people (or about 20% of the global population), accounts for more than 51% of all content online.

This divide presents massive opportunities for brands who are willing to go the extra mile to capitalise on underserved markets.

While many opt for translation plugins to try to fill this void, these are not the best ways to translate a website or its content. This is because such automated tools do not understand the nuances of many languages, often creating nonsensical translations; this could actually damage your reputation and alienate audiences.

Here are 10 compelling reasons to get started transcribing your website content right away.

 

1: Increase Your Customer Base

 

In the global economy, effective website transcreation is necessary for a variety of reasons.

In order for brands to capture overseas consumers, webpages must be served in their native tongue.

Various studies have indicated that roughly 72% of consumers spent the majority of their time online visiting websites in their first language. The same number of people also state that they are more inclined to make a purchase if the product info is in a familiar dialect.

Furthermore, from a psychological standpoint, we know that global shoppers are less likely to purchase an item from a site that is not in their native language and the vast majority always visit websites that feature their preferred language. It makes sense that people want a shopping experience in their native tongue wherever possible.

 

2: Your Company Ships Internationally

 

Many websites and ecommerce stores cater to foreign crowds with international shipping and various currency payment options. Despite this, many of these sites house English-only content.

By providing customers with product information in native languages, you greatly increase the chances of making a sale.

 

3: Your Competition has a Multilingual Website

 

If your competition is serving a variety of audiences around the world through a multilingual site, they are likely capturing more eyeballs and revenue online.

The longer you go without a translated version of your site, the stronger your competition grows across global communities.

 

4: Be a Global Powerhouse

 

On the other hand, if your rivals don’t boast a multilingual website, you are presented with a fabulous opportunity to capitalise on this fact and create custom content for foreign consumers. Many of these folks will no doubt be your loyal customers even if your competition steps up its game.

 

5: Data Indicates Translation is Logical

 

When digging through your site’s traffic data, you might find that your visitors’ geographic data is more diverse than expected.

If you are gaining sizeable volumes of foreign traffic, determine what languages these folks speak and seize the opportunity to capture this business.

 

6: Enhance International SEO

 

Global SEO is one of the most effective strategies for developing an international presence as this will ultimately drive traffic to your site, generate leads, and boost other supporting factors. Most importantly, keeping an international SEO strategy can skyrocket your conversions, which is the heart of any successful online business.

The best way to translate a website and optimise it for multilingual SEO purposes is to hire a transcreation agency with search engine expertise.

 

7: Increase Time on Site

 

Most translated websites receive the added SEO benefits of lower bounce rates, greater user interaction and time on the site.

This will not only help your international SEO efforts but it will also increase the chances of making a sale.

 

8: Cost Efficiency

 

In addition to website translation services, contributing to a site’s bolstered international presence is one of the most cost effective ways of reaching foreign audiences.

By providing your website’s content in a variety of languages and showing users how to change languages on pages, you can effectively capture new users, build confidence with shoppers, and reap a multitude of other benefits.

 

9: Build Trust Worldwide

 

Online consumers typically only shop with websites that they deem trustworthy.

When a site is in a language that people don’t understand, they are more likely not to trust it.

A site that is thoughtfully and accurately presented in a variety of languages, however, gives an air of polish, authority, and global credibility that helps to form significant consumer confidence. A multilingual site gives consumers the impression that the brand cares deeply about their experience.

 

10: Build a Stronger Brand

 

Whenever a brand is able to establish a foothold in foreign markets, it reaps the benefits of strengthening its brand on a global scale.

Nike, Pepsi and Amazon did not become the household names they are today by providing audiences with English-only content.

While these reasons for website translation are informative, you may still be at a loss in deciding which languages to focus on for your translation efforts.

 

Choosing Languages

The first step in figuring out how to build a multilingual website is to establish which languages will be supported.

The more options you choose, the more costly the project will be. It is important to note, however, that not all languages cost the same.

Considering this, it is vital that you account for the size of your budget when studying the countries that are already visiting your site and which languages those people speak.

There are certain languages that are likely to be more fruitful in your translation efforts, but this will probably vary from brand to brand.

Translating your website brings a multitude of benefits; increased sales, stronger brand image, higher international SEO rankings, and many more business perks. The best way to translate a website that converts and boosts your brand is by hiring an agency that intimately understands a language’s intricacies so as to not develop content that appears foolish and turns off the demographic you were looking to convert.

Your site’s success may very well depend on how much you cater to an international audience. Don’t limit your reach to just one language; intelligent localisation can be the single most powerful choice you make for digital business dominace.

 

 

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japanese culture facts - traditions in japan-min

Japanese Culture Facts: 6 Traditions Every Traveller Should Know

  |   CultureShocks Blog

 

Facts about Japanese culture that tourists and businessmen might not know but really should before travelling or doing business.

 

Japan is famous for having one of the richest and most interesting cultures in the world. Many of the country’s ancient practices and traditions are still intact today, helping to shape Japan’s unique lifestyle and global perception.

While most Westerners conjure thoughts of sushi, samurai and sumo wrestlers when they think about Japanese culture (and they wouldn’t be wrong), these notions barely scratch the surface of the Japanese people and their multi-faceted culture.

If you are getting ready to take a holiday to the Land of the Rising Sun, heading there for business purposes, or just looking to be aware and respectful to people from this country, here are six traditions and rituals that you need to know in order to blend in with the locals and not succumb to an acute case of culture shock.

Read our post on Culture Shocks Around the World

Traditional Tea Ceremonies

Japanese Culture Facts - traditional tea ceremonies in Japan

Tea ceremonies are a common part of Japanese culture. This formal yet stylised custom is taken quite seriously. These ceremonies have been greatly influenced by Buddhist practices and the event can be likened to a meditative experience. Japanese tea ceremonies possess deep meaning to the country and those who are invited should feel quite honoured.

If you find yourself invited to such an occasion, be aware that each guest plays a role in the ceremony and will be seated in accordance with their ranking.

Guests should be keenly aware of Japanese tea ceremony etiquette as it can be a fairly complex ritual.

 

The Sacred Practice of Giving Gifts

Japanese Culture Facts - gift giving in japan

Another Japanese tradition that is extremely prevalent throughout the culture is gift giving.

When meeting with business associates or arriving at someone’s home you have been invited to, it is particularly important to show respect and gratitude by presenting your hosts with a gift.

There are a variety of gifts that are acceptable; these largely depend on the occasion and your current relationship to the recipient.

Additionally, how the gift is wrapped is essential; be sure that it is packaged very nicely. If wrapping is not an option, present it in a bag from the shop it was purchased from.

Whatever you do, do not give someone gifts in a set of four as this is considered unlucky since the Japanese word for “four” is pronounced in the same way as “death”.

Present your gift towards the end of your encounter, and do so with both hands no matter if you are giving or receiving.

Additionally, if you are ever offered a gift, strongly object acceptance at first as this is polite; afterward, accept the gift as anything less would be rude.

 

Festive and Celebratory Bonenkai Parties

Japanese Culture Facts - kampai celebration in japan

Each December, Japan is swarming with Bonenkai parties.

Bonenkai party means “forget the year party” and is a way for the Japanese people to leave behind their troubles from the current year and look optimistically towards a new one.

Pretty much every company will throw one of these parties, but there will also be private ones among friends and family.

This Japanese tradition is typically structured with various games and speeches.

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to one of these events, be sure to keep your etiquette intact (which we will go over in a moment) as there is often a second party (and possibly a third) afterward; these can get pretty rowdy.

 

Kampai: A Reverent Social Convention

Japanese Culture Facts - festive bonenkai parties in japan

Whenever you are out drinking with Japanese people, you’re going to hear the word “Kampai” quite a few times. This is akin to “Cheers” in English-speaking countries and translates to “dry glass” or “bottoms up”.

Be mindful when partaking in alcoholic beverages, however, as it is considered rude to pour yourself a drink; another guest should take care of this for you and you should do the same for others.

Additionally, it is also boorish to start drinking before everyone has a beverage and has the chance to Kampai.

Finally, if you want to appear reverent to your newfound friends, during the first round of drink, order the same thing as everyone else to show comradery.

 

Not Tipping: A Custom Rooted in Respect

Japanese Culture Facts - tips in japan

Among all the festivities and drinks, your natural instincts might kick in and convince you to leave a tip on your way out of the bonenkai party or business meeting.

Under no circumstances should you leave a tip in any situation while visiting Japan. In fact, leaving a tip is not only unacceptable, it is considered insulting.

Leaving a tip conveys a message that the business must not be well off and needs extra money.

In the Japanese culture, all of the services you have requested are included in the final price, so leave it at that.

 

Public Sleeping

Japanese Culture Facts - public sleeping in japan

While in Japan, foreigners might find it odd to see people sleeping in public places like on trains, park benches, and similar locations.

Pay no attention to this, however, as it is quite common. It is called inemuri, which translates to “sleep while being present.”

This is not only a common cultural Japanese practice, it is respected as a sign of a person who is working incredibly long hours to contribute to a company’s success and therefore just can’t keep their eyes open.

Finding workers asleep at their desk is an everyday occurrence in Japan and is honored by managers and other higher-ups in a company.

This doesn’t mean that employees can just curl up under their desks and take a nap; staff should appear as if they have dozed off while working. As inemuri is an unintentional nap, unlike hirune – a planned siesta – a person’s posture must reflect that they were trying to work and just couldn’t stay awake a moment longer.

These are just a handful of Japanese traditions that foreigners would be wise to understand. Travelling to a new country for work or pleasure can be a disorienting experience, but by honouring these customs and rituals, you are far more likely to develop prosperous and long-lasting relationships with many Japanese people.

Read our post on 39 Great Tips for Avoiding Culture Shocks When Travelling

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picture representing diversity in vogue magazine

‘Racist’ Photoshoot puts the Spotlight on Vogue

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Diversity and inclusion are two topics that are frequently brought up in today’s societal conversations.

As the dialogue around these topics grows, some brands have come out in support of these cultural issues while others are taking a lot of heat for their failed marketing attempts at highlighting the beauty in diversity.

 

The News

In the March edition of US Vogue, the magazine elected to centre the issue on diversity. The publication – which featured Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and plus-sized model Ashley Graham on its cover – touted a six page spread of Karlie Kloss dressed as a Geisha.

The photos span a variety of scenes in which Kloss sports a kimono-esque dress and Geisha-themed hair, makeup and shoes. In one photo, Kloss is positioned next to a sumo wrestler while in others she can be seen descending the stairs of a tea house.

vogue diversity kloss as a gueisha

The featurette, entitled ‘Spirited Away’, was shot in Japan and was likely an homage to Richard Avedon’s 1966 Vogue shoot.

Shortly after the shoot, Mikael Jansson, the photographer, published one of the images on his Instagram page (which has now been removed) and the internet backlash began.

Users all over Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks began lambasting Kloss and Vogue for ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘whitewashing’ while other people called the shoot outright ‘racist’.

Many users also pointed out the irony that Kloss received a full six pages, whereas the two models of colour were featured in only a single image each.

While Vogue has yet to make a statement about the controversy, Kloss has since taken to Twitter to issue an apology by stating:

“These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive. My goal is, and always will be, to empower and inspire women. I will ensure my future shoots and projects reflect that mission.”

Tensions are still running high about the issue, making this a prime example of a brand not doing its due diligence by obtaining cultural insights.

 

Behind the News

This is not the first time that Vogue has caused contention and decent in its 120 year history.

In 2011, Vogue was on the receiving end of a lot of hate mail after the Italian Vogue website published a feature entitled ‘Slave Earrings’. One year prior to this incident, in 2010, Vogue Italia attempted to glamourise the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by featuring models adorned in feathers and netting while covered in oil. Or how about the time in 2009 when French Vogue featured Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in blackface?

diversity in advertising water and oil

One thing is for certain: Vogue is not afraid of controversy.

In spite of Vogue’s best efforts, the brand seems oblivious to the fact that this whole mess could have been avoided entirely by actually supporting diversity and hiring a Japanese model for the shoot.

Instead of choosing to embrace diversity, they chose instead a popular route in entertainment: hiring a white person to portray an individual from another culture.

matt damon the great wall vogue diversity

Either Vogue made a research error, or chose to stir up some controversy. While we don’t know if any of the hoopla has been intentional, they have certainly landed in the spotlight. If that translates to more magazines sold, then it’s doubtful there are any regrets.

Regardless, by failing to understand such culturally charged matters, it has created another calamity that reflects poorly on its brand and will serve as a vehicle for damaging its sales and reputation long term.

When travelling the world for business negotiations, creating social media posts that involve other countries, and drafting other culturally-driven materials for publication, it is absolutely vital to understand that country’s customs and culture before making a brand look insensitive.

Vogue has impressive longevity, so they are doing many things right. But considering its extensive track record of producing ‘tone-deaf’ publications, this long-standing magazine mainstay would likely engender a lot more loyalty and credibility if they genuinely honored diversity.

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