Change Conversations blog

7 min read

A Vermont designer’s marketing observations in Morocco

By Brad Pettengill on 7/27/17 10:00 AM

The desert sands of Morocco


For her recent birthday, my wife wanted to wake up in an exotic location. She wanted to experience Morocco, despite the warnings from friends and family about "that part of the world" in this current geopolitical climate. Nevertheless, she persisted, and soon we were poring over printouts from Google Earth, planning the route that would take us around the entire country in seven days.

As a photographer, graphic designer and marketing guy, I often view new places through those lenses. Any trip or vacation is opportunity to explore a different culture's aesthetic, customs, beliefs and how those shape the marketing, commerce and development of the region.

International Branding: How it changes, how it doesn't

We saw countless traditional Coca Cola logos, and thankfully there were many Cokes to be bought in the desert, but it took me a few days to realize that Coke also had developed an Arabic wordmark to appeal to Moroccan thirst. Different cultures will experience your brand differently. This also applies to different areas in your region, although the differences may not be as great as those between United States and a predominantly Muslim country like Morocco. Point is the delivery of your message may need to be adjusted based on where it appears.

Arabic version of the Coca-Cola brand message

How do you deliver the same message to different markets or how do you maintain your brand image across cultures

Values-based marketing can protect your company when an inconsistent, local approach might backfire for a brand. Brand consistency means projecting universally appealing values that work in:

• different cultures, with different customs

• different religion/faith/morals/values

• government/laws

Different populations/demographics will respond favorably to targeted marketing messages, with images, text and lifestyles based on thorough knowledge of a culture. Even though we share common needs and desires, we can't assume what works in one place will work in another. What we might think of as extremely odd—a bearded child selling a Jetta, for example— might be hilariously appealing in another culture and test extremely well.

billboard with a bearded child selling a Jetta in Morocco

We all have the same needs, we just look different and express ourselves differently

One overwhelming truth that washed over us daily is that we are all the same. Despite the prejudice, racism, ignorance of those that would try to drive us apart, we are remarkably similar and we all have the same basic needs.

stop sign in Morocco

In Casablanca we saw billboards for Kitea, a large furniture retailer like IKEA, where young families can outfit their homes at a discount if they feel like assembling their products from a kit. Sprinkled throughout the country is a billboard for a Moroccan telecom company with a picture of a woman in a hijab making a mobile call with Mecca as a backdrop. Next to the Pizza Hut is the retailer Marjane, which is pretty much the same as a Walmart or Costco. Walking down the aisles looking for stuff alongside our Moroccan neighbors, many in traditional Muslim attire, it is obvious that what separates us is only attitude and appearance.

billboard with a picture of a woman in a hijab making a mobile call with Mecca as a backdrop

It's a small world, we are connected to Big Brands worldwide

Soon after we got off the plane we were offered SIM cards at an airport kiosk. We asked the cost, to which the woman replied "they're free." Why are they free? we asked. "marketing" was the answer. Yeah right. But surprisingly, there were no strings attached and we had excellent cell service countrywide. Even when calling our doggie daycare in Vermont to check up on the pooch. And I kept getting a good feeling when I looked at my iPhone and saw Air Maroc with several dots of signal strength.

Rooftops with satellite dishes in Morocco

As we drove across the country in our Avis rental, we saw some familiar signs that we are in a thriving global economy that depends on worldwide brand management to convey comfort, consistency and quality no matter where the brand appears, and to whom it speaks. And as evidenced by the thousands of satellite dishes we saw on every imaginable type of home, we are all connected.

Major U.S. brand billboard sign for new sandwich in Morocco

Interesting to note, however, that in Morocco, no amount of marketing will fill your Pizza Hut during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset for Muslims. Unless it stays open past sunset...

empty Pizza Hut during Ramadan

Make sure your message does not get lost in translation in a different language, alphabet, & typography

Not only are the people different, sometimes the entire language infrastructure is different. Different alphabet, reading direction, dialects, vocal sounds, pronunciations. A country or region may even have multiple languages and alphabets. Here we see a sign with no Latin characters, but two alphabets—Arabic, and Tifinagh, used to write the Berber language, spoken in various regions of Morocco.

road sign with two alphabets—Arabic, and Tifinagh, used to write the Berber language

Bottom Line: Maintain your brand, know your audience

The funny thing is when you get off the plane in a foreign country you expect the stuff of legends, of movies and books, of hearsay and news stories. What you find is we are a worldwide family. True, our friends and neighbors in faraway lands have different clothes and different words, but we are more the same than different. We are bound by similar values and desires—the company of family and friends, the rewards of hard work, the desire for quality products, the passion for various causes, and above all love, kindness and community. Knowing how to appeal to your audience, and what motivates them, wherever they are, is the key to marketing success.



When Marketing in One Country Backfires Abroad, Bloomberg Review

Why Global Marketing Must Move Beyond Cultural Stereotypes And Go Deep, Forbes

The Mistake Companies Make When Marketing to Different Cultures, Harvard Business Review

When Does Culture Matter in Marketing? Stanford Business


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