Visual imagery in marketing and intercultural competence: 3 X 3 tips

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Outstanding images are indispensable in marketing. But also intercultural competence is required. But what is considered positive in Western cultures can trigger scandals elsewhere in the worst case scenario. 3 X 3 animal presentation tips, gestures and images of women.

Visual imagery in marketing and intercultural competence: 3 X 3 Tips Visual imagery in marketing and intercultural competence: 3 X 3 tips

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Here writes for you:

Nelly Kostadinova InernationalizationNelly Kostadinova. Founder of Lingua-World, consultant and speaker.


Marketing: The image of the woman

Well-formed curves. Blond, long hair. Haunting laundry. The lady smiles mischievously and holds a smart smartphone in the camera. A promotional photo, as it is now completely normal for us. An eye-catcher when reading newspapers, on large billboard advertising and especially when surfing the Internet. Because one thing is clear: Sex sells! Or?

1. Sexism in Advertising: Women's rights activists are already sounding the alarm

In many countries of the world, this advertising trend and the associated imagery have been part of everyday life for many years. Whether in Germany, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain or Norway: especially in Europe, pictures of half-naked women have long been socially acceptable.

2. When does sexism go too far?

Dolce and Gabbana, Replay, Burger King, Skyy Vodka, the regional heating engineer or the gym next door - again and again fall big and small Company by suggestive or sexist imagery in advertising. The industry does not matter, the phenomenon shows up from the furniture store to the fast food chain.

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Meanwhile, there is increasing debate about whether such images are not going too far and women are reduced to sexual objects. Women's rights activists increasingly demand that sexist advertising be banned in general. In my view rightly: When women are reduced to their beauty, explicitly to certain body parts, that is discriminatory and wrong!

3. Sex does not sell

What leads us back to discussions in the meantime is absolutely unthinkable in other countries and cultures. Especially in many Arab and African countries, the extreme goes exactly in the other direction. Unfortunately, in many places, women are still regarded as second-class citizens and may not be shown in pictures in public. For example, there are particularly strict rules in Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Chad, the Ivory Coast and Mali.

In China, the Middle Kingdom, one goes, so to speak, a middle ground. Women and men are in the People's Republic - at least according to the Constitution - equal. Public portraits of women, however, are more sensitive than they are in Europe. For example, the car manufacturer Audi and the furniture giant Ikea have recently apologized for their commercials. They were considered sexist in China, triggering massive scandals.

Gestures in international comparison

"Small gestures, big impact" and "a picture is worth a thousand words" - these proverbs are valid internationally. But the meaning of the visual language can be very different. This is especially true for expressive gestures. Because these can also be interpreted completely differently in other countries. Some examples:

1. Thumbs up is positive?

Thumbs up! A gesture that in many countries is immediately associated with “all clear” or “like”. For Facebook users anyway, of course. In other countries, however, this sign can cause a lot of trouble.

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In Russia, Greece and parts of Africa and Australia it is an offensive gesture. In Turkey, it can even be understood as an invitation to homosexual acts.

2. Everything OK?

“The food tastes great!”, “Great!” or "Everything okay!" - There is also visual language for this. In Germany, Great Britain, Canada or Mexico, for example, the circle of fingers is used, shaped by the thumb and index finger.

This should be better avoided in other countries such as Spain, France, Tunisia or Belgium. The gesture is seen there as an insult. It means something like “zero” or “worthless” and is frowned upon in a similar way to our “stink finger”.

3. Victory - a clear sign?

Visual language that everyone knows: If the index and middle fingers form a “V”, it is clearly the victory or peace sign. The gesture mostly stands for success or peace. In Asia as in Japan, Taiwan or South Korea, the sign can also underline a smile and means as much as happy.

But be careful: in Greece the hand gesture means something like "go to hell". Above all, you should make sure that the back of your hand does not point outwards. Because this is a serious insult, especially in South Africa, Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Former US President George W. Bush unfortunately did not know this difference in visual language when visiting Australia and unconsciously insulted his audience.

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Bush would probably have been able to show a bird - but even this gesture is not clear. For the index finger on the forehead is a welcome gesture in the USA. It shows the other wordlessly that one considers him smart and clever.

Animal differences

Animal pictures are always well received. But even with this theme, the motives are interpreted differently from country to country.

1. Smart or stupid?

For example, the image of an owl in Germany and many other countries stands for wisdom and intelligence.

In China, on the other hand, the bird is the symbol of evil and stupidity. So you can quickly step into a fat bowl.

2. The thieving magpie

Another flying example is the magpie: the black-and-white feathered animal is considered to be thieving and deceitful and does not arouse any positive associations.

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Quite different, for example, in South Korea: Here the magpie the highly regarded national bird in the yin-yang colors of cosmic energy.

3. Sneaky or holy?

Also in the representation of reptiles it can lead to misunderstandings: The snake stands with us for intrigue, malice, death and ruin.

In India, however, it is a sacred animal and is considered a sign of the creative power of the earth. So sometimes the interpretation of a picture is far from reality?


From years of experience I know that the differences in the international imagery can cause misunderstandings, disputes and in the worst case scandals. Especially on websites on the Internet.

Image content must be viewed and analyzed very sensitively from country to country. One should always be very extensively informed about the foreign events on the ground and be called in the best case, a localization expert. It is worth it ..

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