Lost in Translation: Honda Jazz not Fitta for Scandinavia

Posted on December 17, 2015

The business case for undertaking thorough cultural analysis when marketing to particular cultural segments cannot be overstated. While this blog series of ‘Lost in Translation’ bloopers may bring a smile to your face, I’m sure it is not the case for the Marketing Executives and General Managers caught up in these damaging and costly blunders – such as this example committed by Honda.

The Honda Jazz is one of Honda’s best selling cars. It has contributed to Honda’s increasing global market share of the car industry. In 2012, global Honda sales were 3.1 million cars. This grew in 2015 to 4.36 million by October1. Honda Jazz car sales have been particularly strong in Asian markets. In India alone, of the 18,606 Hondas sold in July 2015, 6,676 of these were a Honda Jazz, making it Honda’s biggest selling car in India. It has assisted Honda to achieve a year-on-year growth of 18% in India2. In China sales are on track to more than double in 2015 from 2012 levels3.

The story hasn’t been as rosy however for European sales. It appears Jazz sales are headed for around a 35% decrease in 2015 from 2012 volumes4. Conversely sales of the subcompact car segment in Europe is up 5% in the first ¾ of 2015 on 20145.

A damaging cross-cultural communication error may explain part of the reason. The launch of the Jazz did not get off to a good start when it was introduced to Scandinavian countries in 2001. The car was originally named the Honda Fitta. Great expense was undertaken producing marketing collateral and branding to support its launch.

Then Honda discovered that Fitta is a vulgar term for female genitalia in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. To compound the situation, the car’s tagline was “Small on the outside but big on the inside”. It was too late to save the expense of wasted marketing material, but fortunately early enough to halt damage to the Honda brand and reputation as it hadn’t yet publicly launched. Basic cultural communication research would have revealed this mistake early on and saved the company money and angst.

The Honda Fitta was subsequently renamed Honda Jazz in Europe, parts of Asia and Australia, and renamed Honda Fit in the US and China.

As businesses operate in increasingly global markets, it is crucial they understand cross-cultural differences, including language, etiquette, non-verbal communication, values and customs to avoid damaging blunders. OriginsInfo provides valuable cultural data to form the basis of cross-cultural research.

Back to blog