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Backside illumination sensor – the latest development from Apple

June 10, 2010
Image of back of Michelangelo's David

A view from behind - choice of wording is crucial to avoid upset in multicultural marketing

I am grateful to a regular reader of A Brand Day Out for pointing me in the direction of Apple’s promotional web page for the iPhone 4. Here, among the beautiful design and expertly laid out copy, is a special feature: the backside illumination sensor which “delivers great looking video in both bright and low-light settings“. 

It took a while to work out that this sensor must be on the reverse side of the iPhone – the bit you don’t look at – and includes a light sensor. Right, but a backside illumination sensor?!?!? As they say on their site, “in so many ways, it’s a first“…

Maybe in the US, backside doesn’t mean what it does here in the UK. But this is an age old problem: the choice of words and colours in international marketing.

Without wishing to make Apple the butt of my humour, it is nonetheless important to understand cultural nuances in marketing across borders. The “colour” white is pure in the west but implies death in Japan. Not to mention the old joke about the Vauxhall/Opel Nova, whose name means “no go” in Spanish and the car didn’t sell (or so the myth goes).

Cross-cultural marketing is fraught with difficulties. Even when marketers ask for a simple translation things can go wrong. The early years of Japanese motorcycle imports into the UK in the 1960s brought user manuals which today are collectors’ items on account of their comical translation of mechanical instructions.

So in short, the message for marketers is simple. Before “going large” with a marketing campaign – even if in the same language as the home country – test out your messaging with local (and intelligent) translators. There are translators and there are translators who understand nuance – so choosing well is important.

Meanwhile, back with the backside illumination sensor, my friend also tells me there is a church in Maine, USA, called Backside Redemption. Let’s leave it there for today, shall we?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2011 11:11 am

    Maybe it’s because (and I speak as an iPhone user) they realise that iPhone users are so far up their own … well, as you say, let’s not go there.
    Which reminds me of the old joke ‘How do you know if someone is an iPhone user? They tell you.’

    • January 31, 2011 3:15 pm

      And the other reply to the joke: they always carry a duster around to wipe the smears from the screen…

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