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Merde! – Or How to Avoid Content Pitfalls in International Markets

Many companies are active abroad. The impact of business content in the local language is often neglected during the transition into other markets. For companies, that risks not only embarrassment and possible controversy, it can also severely restrict sales potential.

Can we use the same terminology indiscriminately across different countries? As car manufacturer Toyota discovered with the introduction of their “MR2” vehicle in France, this is not always a good idea. What the Japanese had failed to realize is that in French, “MR2” sounds like “merde” – which translates as sh*t.

Many companies are active abroad. International expansion can help companies to boost their sales, turnover and growth. Internationalization is particularly popular in e-commerce, where growth rates are very promising.

Before an expansion abroad goes ahead, there are usually countless analyses of the target market in terms of potential, competition, pricing decisions, timing and more. However, the impact of business content in the local language is often neglected. For companies, that risks not only embarrassment and possible controversy, it can also severely restrict sales potential.

Good content in the local language is critical to success

Markets operate differently, but in every country, users and search engines alike expect unique, high-quality content in the local language. For businesses, it is particularly important that their international content messages are conveyed clearly and accurately. Thus when entering new markets, good content in the native language of customers and users is absolutely essential for commercial success.

5 points to remember with your international content

Here are five points you should carefully consider to avoid pitfalls when conducting international business across multiple markets:

1. Linguistic aspects:

It’s not only pronunciation and spelling which differ in British and American English. There are also some different words (e.g. biscuit = cookie, football = soccer) as well as words which can mean different things. And in Swiss-German, there is no sharp s (ß) because the Swiss always use a double-s instead. Such linguistic subtleties are important if your professional communications are to be effective.

2. Cultural differences:

Different countries have different customs. This should be understood, and business content should always take account of the rules and lifestyles of different cultures. For example: In the Arab world, it is customary to read from right to left. This means that even visual content can be problematic if it’s not adjusted.

3. Other implications:

Whether it’s on a corporate website, or on Facebook, companies need to know that their message is understood in every country. This means remembering that colors or symbols may imply different things when used countries outside the home market. For instance, white-painted faces in Asia are associated with death – as the McDonald’s fast-food chain discovered when Asian children failed to laugh at their clown character, Ronald McDonald.

4. Names and abbreviations:

Company and product names can have very different connotations in other countries. Like the “MR2,” there have been numerous examples of products that didn’t perform well in other countries because the name was less than ideal.

Translations versus new content

If you keep these general points in mind, you have done everything right so far. Now comes the choice between globalization and localization. Here, you must decide whether to treat all global markets equally or adopt different procedures for each local area. Therefore, in order to ensure the accuracy of their professional communications abroad, companies can choose to translate their content for the respective countries or create entirely new content. This, of course, will largely depend upon their content strategy.

If you operate an online store, you can translate your central store content on subpages for different countries in the respective language. Or alternatively, you can create customized local shops using new content for each country. Each of these methods can be useful, and each will have certain advantages and disadvantages.

Translations: Pros and Cons

To translate means to reproduce the content of a post from its original language into another language. Do you need uniform content across all your markets? Then translation of your content is probably the right strategy. For example: A good translation can be the best solution for product specifications or technical texts.


  • Translations are usually less expensive than new content.
  • The consultation and coordination required with translations is usually less than that required for the creation of new content.
  • A uniform appearance is promoted in keeping with your global corporate identity.
  • Identical content means your content-performance should be very similar.


  • Translations often have to be reworked and locally adapted (e.g. links, sources, photos …).
  • Issues and trends in individual target markets may not be addressed in certain circumstances.
  • Content “spread too thinly” may not function as well as exclusively created content.
  • The error rate can be higher if the content has not been explicitly created for the target market.

Creating new content: Pros and Cons

Does your content need to reflect a number of local requirements? Then you should opt for new content and customize your material for different markets. For example: For humorous social media posts or creative blog articles with local content, creating custom content for each country is usually sensible.


  • The individual circumstances of each domestic market can be addressed.
  • The needs of local target groups can be accommodated.
  • Topics, current trends and developments in the target markets can be incorporated.
  • Customized content promotes higher user engagement.


  • New content mostly requires a higher level of coordinated effort than a translation, e.g. topic planning, briefing etc.
  • New content also requires more editing and fine-tuning.
  • When different content is used in each market, some may prove relatively inferior.

Conclusion: Employ native speakers

Should you translate content for different markets or create fresh material? There is really no right or wrong answer. This will always be an individual decision dependent upon on several factors such as the respective target market, the industry, the products, the type of content etc.

However, no matter whether your content is translated or created specifically for the target market, you should always employ native speakers. Only they will understand the cultural realities of the country, its predominant idioms and colloquial expressions – and can then help avoid having your foreign communications generate a faux pas “à la MR2″.

And similarly, you should be careful to use authors familiar with each English dialect for any content published in other countries. Translations should ideally be undertaken by native speakers of your target language, i.e. the language in which the text will appear, though a good understanding of the base language will, of course, be a further requirement.

Before forging ahead with overseas expansion, just remember: Bad content not only makes it difficult to communicate with your target audience, it can also have an economic impact. So make sure you use high-quality content and keep an eye open for translations affected by cultural and linguistic factors.

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