Olympic memories are forever, and for most people involved in the games, they've been a lifetime in the making—not just for the athletes, but also for their families and inner circles who have watched and supported the athletes along the way.

Time and again, we see that the human stories behind these world-class athletes resonate across cities, states, countries, and cultures. The "Raising an Olympian" series of Web videos produced by the ZiZo Group for Procter & Gamble touches on the sacrifices made by the families of various athletes in order to reach the ultimate goal of the Winter Olympics.

The series transcended language and culture, and it delivered the marketing equivalent of gold for its sponsor. The brand lessons from that campaign and others from the Winter Olympics should serve as guidelines for companies planning their marketing strategies for this summer's World Cup Championship and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both to be held in Brazil.

In instances such as these global-scale sporting events, where target markets encompass a wide spectrum of cultures and languages, marketers need to make sure their campaigns take into account the nuances created by a multinational audience.

Everything down to the brand name itself has subtle connotations to viewers in different countries, and marketers need to be aware of phonetical, conceptual, and visual pitfalls:

  • The brand Vicks sounds very much like a German word with sexual implications, a phonetical issue that could be easy to overlook.
  • Several years ago, Nike attempted to engage the Asian youth market with an ad campaign featuring Lebron James and a kung fu master, but the ad was a huge failure because it was found incredibly offensive by Chinese markets, creating a conceptual problem for the brand.
  • The US hand gesture for "OK" is decidedly not OK in South America, where it would deliver the wrong visual message for any brand unlucky enough to use it.

Simple, automated translation, which does not account for cultural differences, cannot catch those kinds of issues before they turn into multimillion-dollar mistakes.

So what does work when you're dealing with multicultural, multilingual, multinational marketing campaigns?

P&G's Olympic campaign started with a universal idea—what it takes to raise an Olympian—and used it to tell the personal stories of 19 athletes who collectively spoke 11 languages. To ensure the campaign was relevant to the many markets interested in the Olympics, and also respectful of the diverse linguistic backgrounds of the videos' subjects, the marketing agency for the project decided to localize the videos (into Austrian, Dutch, English, Flemish, German, French, Italian, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, and Swedish). Using professional linguists familiar with each culture guaranteed that each version met the standards for that particular market.

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image of Liz Elting

Liz Elting is a co-founder and the CEO of TransPerfect/Translations, a family of companies providing global business services in over 100 languages.

LinkedIn: Liz Elting