5 International Packaging Fails and How to Avoid Them


Globalisation is a tricky business, particularly when it comes to product packaging. Not only are you at risk from messages getting lost in translation, but there are plenty of examples where a little something extra gets added into the mix.

Swear words, social faux pas and a complete lack of information are all pitfalls that will make your product stand out for all the wrong reasons or even completely unsellable. Before launching your goods overseas, here are five common mistakes you need to make sure to avoid.


1. Bad translations

With over 7,000 languages being spoken around the world, it’s easy to understand why certain nuances are lost between different cultures. When you’re trying to promote a product – particularly one that you’re expecting your customer to eat – it’s important to check that the language barrier hasn’t caused any embarrassments on your packaging.

There are numerous ways in which this can happen. For example, you might not realise that your brand name actually means something else in the native language, or perhaps you’ve chosen a poor translation of the word you want:

Image Source: Tesco


Other humorous examples include:

  • KFC translating “finger licking good” to their Chinese market as “eat your fingers off”
  • SEGA failing to realise that it’s brand name is an Italian slang term for masturbation
  • Vicks, who didn’t consider that German customers would be pronouncing their product as “ficks”, which is a colloquialism for sex.


2. Cultural sensitivities

You can have the perfect wording, but if another part of your campaign appears to be culturally tone-deaf, your sales will flatline.

You only need to look at Pepsi’s 2017 TV advert as an example. In case you missed it, Kendall Jenner offers a can of Pepsi to a police officer, amid some kind of civil rights demonstration (it looks a lot like the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests). The campaign was slammed for appearing to trivialise a very serious political and social issue by making it look like a can of Pepsi was the obvious solution.

Another example is UPS having to change their signature shade of beige for their delivery trucks and staff uniforms. In Spain, a brown van might be mistaken for a hearse, while in Germany, brown shirts have had negative connotations since WWII.

When it comes to packaging, everything from the model on the front to the colour combinations you use should be carefully considered in case they have a less-obvious connotation in the market you’re aiming for. Local focus groups should be able to help you identify these.


3. Letters in an unpleasant order

Before finalising your product name and packaging design, take the time to see how the wording interacts. Could it be read or said in a misleading way? Is it at risk from unfortunate misspellings?

A common occurrence of this type of problem is when companies register a domain name and inadvertently create a “slurl” - that’s a combination of a slur and a URL. Your brand might contain two or three innocuous words, such as “who represents” or “therapist’s choice”, but bang them together in a website name? You’ve got whorepresents.com and therapistschoice.com. You even need to consider your Top Level Domain (the ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ part), or you could end up making the same mistake as Swissbit, who inadvertently launched their Swiss site as “swissbit.ch”.

When it comes to packaging, you can easily create problems when text positioning folds around an edge or a curve. Read and re-read the text on your box or bag – and maybe run it past whichever one of your friends has the dirtiest mind – to check that you’re not overlooking an obvious flaw.


4. Check the typography

A quick crash course in typography: when looking at a printed text, the spacing between letters is known as tracking. Occasionally, tracking can cause certain combinations of characters to look strange and kerning needs to be applied to make these letters sit in a specific way and look more pleasing to the eye. This might seem really boring, but if you don’t check your kerning, things can get messy. For example:



Image Source:  Imgur

If you see what we see, you’ll agree that Walmart.com is more than just a “click” away - all thanks to poorly applied tracking and a lack of kerning. Other text issues can come from poorly chosen typefaces – just take a look at these examples to see how easy it can be.


5. Not meeting international legal requirements

This one might not be the most entertaining mistake, but it can certainly hit your company the hardest. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new business or an established national brand that’s looking to expand overseas - if your packaging only complies to your own government’s requirements, you’ll need to make some modifications, fast.

Depending on where you intend to export, you may need to include:

  • The quantity, weight or volume of your packaging’s contents
  • Its recommended retail price (RRP)
  • Its ingredients
  • Where and when it was made
  • Its expiration date
  • Any organisations associated with it

Food and drink generally have very stringent laws placed on their supply chain, particularly in the EU and EU member states, China and North America. The best way to avoid this is to choose a packaging manufacturer that is aware of international product standards. For example, The Bag Broker provides international food packaging that is manufactured to meet (International Standards Organisation) and HACCP standards, which are recognised around the world. Take a look at the wide range of custom bags and film types here

However, you cannot put all of the responsibility on your packaging designers or suppliers. At the end of the day, it’s your product and your money on the line so it’s up to you to make sure you don’t end up with huge amounts of un-sellable stock with swear words printed all over it.


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