Tailoring Your Message – What We Learn from the Orange-Israel-Partner Saga?

Jul 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Featured Articles, News

There are many aspects to a public relations program or marketing plan; but as most students of marketing and PR will be able to tell you, some very basic points including the necessity to: i) decide what your main goals are? ii) who is your audience? and iii) create the most effective message. As you figure out your main message, it can become obvious that for each different audience, the message needs to be tailored accordingly.

Dealing with multinationals or global conglomerates for example, these “messages” become increasingly challenging to tailor. While the company seeks to maintain consistency with their image and brand, each organization is faced with different cultural, political and religious barriers and differences.

A famous example of this is an old marketing legend from the 1960’s of when Pepsi, trying to compete with Coca-Cola, expanded to China. Its global marketing message and slogan at the time was “Now it’s Pepsi for those who think young” which was ‘lost in translation’ and came out as”New Pepsi is for people with the minds of children’. Clearly this did not have a good effect on the Chinese people or its sales. Attempting to “make up” for this mistake or what Israelis would call a “fashlah”, the marketing team went back and came up with “Come alive with Pepsi”. Unfortunately this wasn’t much better either than the previous mistake. It was translated in Chinese to mean “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead”. Again, they tried to do damage control, however, “Resurrect! Your body will be made of Pepsi” was the result instead of what they really intended to say, which was “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation”.

Fast forward to 2015. Orange S.A. learned a similar lesson in cultural differences, and it was not even over a slogan or main marketing messages – but through words spoken by its CEO, Stephane Richard at a press conference.

Orange has been under contract with Israeli owned Partner, which operates its Orange brand, for the last 17 years. In efforts for his company to become one of those “trustful partners of all Arab countries,” the CEO made the mistake, while in Egypt, of acknowledging that his company was “looking for ways to leave Israel” but the idea was simply “not viable at present”. “I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning, but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company… I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties that could be really sizeable for the company,” he said.

Richard was clearly trying to persuade and convince his audience in the “Arab countries” to trust his company and brand, as he admitted “I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt…” The problem was that while he was hoping his words would be heard in other Arab countries, he maybe, somehow, “forgot” or didn’t think about the fact that once words are spoken in one culture, country or language, in today’s real time, social media environment, they are felt, translated and heard all over the world.  The effect was almost immediate and was reported worldwide, no less in Israel – the country it has operated in for the last 17 years.

Weeks later, while the media storm may have died down, this “fashlah” from Orange’s CEO has cost the company, not only PR damage, but a completely new framework agreement which now sees Orange paying Israel Partner up to 90 million Euros. (Until now, Partner was paying Orange 15 million shekels, roughly four million dollars, annually for the use of its brand).

When I was studying public relations in university (more than 20 years ago), we focused heavily on cross-cultural communications. Little did I know then how much more relevant that aspect of PR would be in the 21st century, given the range and power of the digital media. The moral of the Orange-Israel-Partner saga is as follows: When trying to shape your message for one audience, never forget that not only must the words “translate” correctly, conveying the intended meaning, but remember – always customize your messages in such a way that it never offends and alienates other critical audiences.



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