Some global brands have done such a remarkable job of entering the Latin American market that they have earned a place as household staples in many middle class households. Procter & Gamble, for example, has introduced many products successfully throughout Latin America.
One of its best-selling brands, the Pantene hair care product line, perhaps most famously known in the United States by the tagline “For hair so healthy it shines,” has gained extensive popularity throughout Latin America, to the point that it is sold at nearly every corner farmacia. So how is the brand managing its online web presence, and what lessons can be learned for other companies seeking to break into Latin America? Let’s take a closer look.
When we studied Pantene’s websites for Latin America in early May 2012, we noticed that Pantene avoids making the common mistake of using a single website to target the people who live in all of the countries in Latin America. It offers 11 unique country-specific sites for Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Pantene also has one “blanket site” for Central America — in other words, 12 sites in total. However, looks can be deceiving not only in the three-dimensional world, but in website navigation too. Just because the menu offers 12 different sites, it does not necessarily mean that each site will be completely customized to the target country.
Pantene Argentina: winning and failing
From the moment they see the telltale primary navigation element that beckons them to find their product (encontrá tu producto) in the top lefthand corner, visitors to the Argentina website are bound to feel at home (Figure 1). We applaud Pantene for the fact that a good amount of the site content uses the voseo form of second person, which is common in Argentina, and uses the pronoun vos for you. Many brands make the mistake of using second person forms for Argentina that apply to the rest of Latin America, such as tú or usted. It’s a best practice to speak as the locals do with your web presence, so Pantene gets it mostly right for its Argentine customers by using the voseo.
Unfortunately, the brand fails to use vos consistently throughout the entire site. In the bottom left corner of Pantene Argentina’s home page it uses the tú form instead, where it says Contáctanos. The inconsistent use of vos sends a clear signal to visitors — this website is not completely tailored to Argentina after all.
There are several other warning signs that this site has not been fully localized. One of the biggest red flags is the fact that one of the site navigation elements was actually left in English. A link for “More>>” appears in the two promotional boxes near the bottom of the page. While this might not seem like a significant mistake, it truly is. Just imagine if you were visiting a website in English and suddenly came across a foreign word randomly while reading. It would look unprofessional at best, confusing at worst, potentially preventing a customer from clicking on the link to learn more about a product.
The site also has an error in the center of the home page, failing to use an opening exclamation point where it says COMENCEMOS! when it should read ¡COMENCEMOS! instead (Figure 1). Leaving off the opening exclamation point was apparently not a conscious choice or part of the brand’s official style guide for Argentine Spanish, because right below, in the bottom righthand corner, it uses the punctuation correctly: ¡Pantene Institute llegó a la Argentina!
But perhaps one of the biggest ways visitors can tell that this is not an Argentine site is the logo of the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is featured prominently at the bottom of the page, saying “Accredited Business” in English. Even if the reader speaks enough English to understand what this means, it’s highly doubtful that anyone from Argentina will care about Pantene’s BBB status, since the BBB does not even operate there. Small, seemingly minor issues like these are often holdovers from pages that were designed for customers in a company’s home market.
We also could not help but notice that the Latin American website had a copyright date of 2011, even though we were visiting the sites in May 2012. While it may be a minor detail, it signals to the user that no one has bothered to update the website since 2011, or that the site’s content may in fact be outdated.
From the Argentine website, users can easily jump to a targeted Facebook page for Pantene Argentina (Figure 2), which has received an impressive 175,000 “likes.” The page also wisely incorporates its Twitter handle, @PanteneArg. Here, the brand does a good job providing a user experience that is more targeted to Argentina — the terms that appear in English in the image are due to our English-language Facebook settings, not the Pantene-provided content.
Winning and failing elsewhere
We were pleased to see social media links prominently offered on every single country-specific site for Pantene. When you click on the Facebook link from the Peruvian home page for Pantene, for example, you go directly to the Pantene Peru Facebook page (Figure 3). Again, the content provided for this page appears to be relevant for the Peruvian market. Even the image chosen for Peru is more reflective of the local target market, just as the Argentine Facebook page featured a model more compatible with the target demographic for that market.
Unfortunately, Pantene does not replicate its social media success for many other countries in Latin America. If the user clicks on the Facebook links from the Pantene websites for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, they are routed to a Pantene Facebook page for Central America. The last time we checked, all of these countries are in South America, not Central America. So, the first problem with routing users there is that they will be surprised to be taken to content that is clearly labeled with Central America. But an even bigger problem is the fact that the page cannot be found.
Routing users to a social media page that is broken or not set up properly is perhaps worse than not linking them to any social media page at all. It gives visitors the impression that the brand is sloppy or careless. It would only be a matter of modifying a hyperlink to fix this problem, so it seems quite clear that no one bothered to test all the links when the Pantene sites for these countries were rolled out or updated.
Mexico is one of Pantene’s largest markets in Latin America, and the brand does provide some customized content for its Mexican visitors. For example, one of the promotional panels in the main content area says 8 de cada 10 mexicanas (8 out of 10 Mexican women). It appropriately uses the local term ampolleta to refer to its new small tube or vial of conditioner, while in other markets, it uses the term ampolla instead. It also uses the term cabello to refer to hair in Mexico, while it uses the term pelo in other markets. In other words, it appears that Pantene might have had translations performed locally for each market, or they might have asked in-country staff or partners to ensure that the terminology would resonate correctly in each place. This kind of attention to terminological detail is not always common, so Pantene does the right thing in this regard.
On the negative side of things, we cannot help but point out another inconsistency — the Mexican site refers to the Pantene Institute in Spanish in two different ways — as el Instituto Pantene in the text under Asesoría del Cabello (hair assessment) and el Pantene Institute. These contrasting ways of referring to Pantene Institute in Spanish are unfortunately in such close proximity to each other on the page that they are quite noticeable to anyone who is actually reading the text. Both instances appear to just be text-based — they are not embedded in images. So, it would be easy enough to fix either one of them to achieve consistency, but apparently no one reviewed the site for these kinds of details — or if they did, they failed to catch them.
We were pleased to see that Pantene did not assume that what works for the United States will work in Latin America. Pantene has a completely separate Spanish website for its customers in the United States (Figure 4). The US site uses Eva Mendes, a popular Latina actress, as the American face of its brand on the Spanish site, but she does not appear on any of the Latin American sites.
However, we were disappointed to see that Pantene’s US Spanish site makes the same mistake that its Argentina site does by not sticking to a consistent pronoun for you. Most of the US site in Spanish uses the informal tú form, but at the very bottom, it says comuníquese con nosotros, which is the conjugation of the verb used for the formal usted. Also, it leaves the term FAQs, an acronym for frequently asked questions in English, although it’s unlikely that many Spanish speakers in the United States would know this acronym unless they also have proficiency in English. Again, details like this may not seem that important, but most marketing executives would not tolerate these kinds of errors on an English site.
Makers of consumer products have the challenge of representing only those products on their websites that are actually for sale in those countries. For example, in the United States, the Pantene product lines typically retain their English product names even when marketed in Spanish, such as Aqua Light and Ice Shine. So, Pantene could not really use their US website for Latin American consumers very easily, because users in Latin America simply would not be able to locate the products promoted by the US site.
When it comes to featuring products that can actually be purchased in each country, Pantene does an excellent job. The brand’s Mexican site features ten different product lines, which is a testament to the fact that Mexico represents an enormous market.
When we visited Pantene’s Latin American websites in May 2012, we noticed that the brand was featuring its line of Rescue products. The product images on the sites for Argentina and Chile (Figure 5) look quite similar, but there are subtle differences. If you look at the bottles with the pink label in the center (Control caída or breakage control), you will notice that there are five products offered in that line in Argentina, while only four are offered in Chile. Also, the products with the green label at the top (Restauración or repair) are slightly different. The tube on the left side is white in Argentina, but there is a different product with a gold-colored tube sold in Chile.
Careful readers who speak Spanish will have noticed that the Spanish site for Argentina on the left side of the image again reverts to the tú form. Where did the voseo go? Again, the site fails to use the same pronoun consistently.
What web marketers can learn from Pantene in Latin America
There are four main lessons to be learned from Pantene’s web presence in Latin America. First, create a separate style guide for each country. Every country in Latin America has its own terminology, and as we showed in the example of Argentina, there can even be differences at grammatical levels too. Avoid simply recycling the same content for all countries in Latin America. Otherwise, you’ll end up with exactly the same problem Pantene has — a brand voice that is inconsistent and unfortunately not in keeping with the sleek look it intends to promote. However, Pantene does get it right some of the time by making terminology choices that are appropriate in each country.
Second, develop a social media strategy for each country. Pantene does a wonderful job with social media for some countries, but others are literally left with nothing. Users in several important markets for Pantene cannot “like” them on Facebook for no other reason than the fact that the brand has failed to set up a country-specific page, a process which only takes a few minutes per country. At the very least, Pantene could direct its users to a social media page that is functional instead of a broken one.
Third, conduct a quality assurance review for each country. It does not look like some of the country-specific Pantene sites were actually tested by staff or partners in each country where the brand has a presence in Latin America. Even if the brand had no one available to assist in those countries, surely it could have convinced some loyal customers to test its country websites and provide feedback for improvement in exchange for a free product. Any consumer with a computer could have tested links, and we’re pretty sure that someone would have pointed out that the English word More did not make any sense on a Spanish site for Latin America.
Fourth, display only the products that are available in each country. Although we did not personally visit each Latin American country in order to verify it, judging from how the products displayed changed from one country website to another, this is something that Pantene appears to have done correctly. While this may seem like a basic requirement, believe it or not, in our many years of visiting global websites, we’ve often seen companies fail to realize the importance of this.
You may have noticed that these four tips have something in common — they all ended with the words “each country.” That’s because when you’re designing websites for Latin America, you need to adopt slightly different strategies for each country. After all, Latin America spans two different continents. Would you ever dream of trying to use the same web content for a similar number of countries located in both Asia and Europe? Just as the sales, advertising, and distribution tactics must change from one country to another within Latin America, so must your web strategy. Keep it country-specific, and your customers will thank you, whether that you happens to be tú, usted or vos.