Friday, October 5, 2007

How to avoid a heart attack

The Virginia Tourism Board in the United States has a great idea for an advertising campaign. 'Live Passionately' is the centerpiece of their Virginia is for Lovers theme. Now this is an idea with huge Lovemarks potential; emotional, inspiring and intimate. For the icon of their campaign, they used people making a heart shape with their two-hands. That’s sensuality into the mix. Perfect. Just one thing went wrong. It turns out the hand-heart symbol was used by a local gang who had the sale of crack cocaine as the center of its business model. The icon was hastily dropped.

What went wrong here? As usual, hindsight makes it simple. They didn’t dig into the local deep enough and missed an element which was (and fair enough too) foreign to them personally, but influential on local business people and groups whose support they needed. We sometimes forget that influence can be negative as well as positive. This is the kind of mistake some brands make when they move into new markets foreign to them. In these circumstances, some mistranslations (although the suggestion that Coca-Cola phonetically translated its name in China in the 1920s as “bite the wax tadpole” is sadly an urban legend) and social and cultural missteps are not surprising. What the Virginia experience brings home to me are two important lessons. First, you can get it just as wrong in your own backyard as in distant markets, and second, the meaning of an icon can be so distorted that you don’t have to have anything to do with it. Icons are living ideas we need to nurture and protect and can never take for granted.

4 comments:

Susan Plunkett said...

Having a research back and strong socio-cultural interests, I am often amazed at the minimal research that goes into checking if a brand name or an advertising approach is best fit and doesn't carry other meanings. All I can suggest is that some folks need to look beyond notions of singular influential culture (e.g. white middle class).

Out of interest, is the heart shape/sign unto itself considered romantic or sensual in all cultures?

Kempton said...

It is such a shame that the hand-heart symbol was used by the local gang first.

Is the hand-heart symbol now off-limit in Virginia? There must be some way to take this symbol back from the gang ...

Piotr Jakubowski said...

This reminds me of car names that didn't work in the past (because the proper background information was not done). This included the Nova in Mexico, and the Honda Fitta in Sweden and Norway. Nova means "no go" in Spanish, whereas Fitta is a derogatory term for a woman's privates in Swedish and Norwegian. The car was later renamed the Honda Jazz in Europe, but it was funny to hear of their mistake.

Kevin Roberts said...

Piotr – ha! Thanks for this, it just has to make you laugh eh. I wonder how sales are going on Mitsubishi’s ‘Pajero’.