The Pitfalls of International Business

The pitfalls of doing business in other countries can be large and deep and there have been many examples of failed or embarrassing market entries for multi-national companies - here are some examples of what can happen when things get 'lost in translation':

Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave", in Chinese.

When Mitsubishi launched its Pajero 4WD in Spain they had the shock of a lifetime. As they were promoting Pajero they forgot to take into account the word "Pajero" means "jerk" in Spanish.

Electrolux had to take their slogan down which read "Nothing sucks like Electrolux."

When Ford tried selling its car "Pinto" in Brazil it was a huge failure. The reason - the word "Pinto" is a slang for small penis in Brazil.

Parker pens slogan "Avoid Embarrassment - use Quink," when translated into Spanish came out as "Avoid pregnancy - use Quink."

General Motors tried marketing their popular Chevrolet Nova in several Spanish speaking countries. "No Va" means "It Doesn't Go".

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

While there are many examples of slightly light hearted translation issues there are serious risks when taking a business into a foreign market. A successful business in one country does not guarantee success in another where differences of culture, language, political persuasion and religion can hinder a successful release.

Blackberry phones have become hugely popular in the last few years as a mobile office of sorts. Users can browse the internet and send emails just as if they were sitting at their desk. The inspired design has lead the Blackberry to become one of the most popular smart phones used by over 40 million people worldwide. Research In Motion (RIM), the company responsible for the Blackberry, has become one of the darlings of the tech world. In 2009 Fortune magazine named it the fastest growing company in the world - between July 2006 and July 2009 the share price rose by over 600%. But the perils of doing business overseas have started to bite and RIM is facing an increasingly difficult regulatory landscape.

One of the hallmarks of the Blackberry is the encryption and security the system has and therefore confidentiality - a process that is starting to ruffle the feathers of some countries concerned that they cannot monitor what is being sent. Earlier in the year the UAE banned Blackberry services due to concerns over security and RIM failure to meet the county's telecommunications regulations, Saudi Arabia threatened a similar fate which was averted at the last minute. While only smaller markets the issue gained world attention and highlighted the issues many Western companies face operating in foreign markets. Last week India issued the same ultimatum to RIM - allow us to monitor intercept messages or we will shut down the network by the end of the month. The Indian government is increasingly concerned the device is being used by terrorists who may be planning attacks. India has around 1 million Blackberry users and is the fastest growing telecoms market - a shutdown could prove a disaster for the firm.

For RIM it is a double edged sword - by complying with the demands it faces a backlash of its greatest selling point - confidentiality - a major reason for it popularity with business professionals. On the other hand by not complying it risk having its service shut off. RIM's biggest growth markets are places like India, Indonesia and China - the latter two have already expressed reservations over RIM encryption.

The issues have not gone done well with shareholders with the share price down some 21% since the start of the month and down almost 31% since the start of the year. Trying times for a successful company and the next few months will see how they come out of it. Political issues can be the most difficult to navigate.

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