This is not G.E.’s first effort to position itself as a global behemoth. Since most G.E. commercials use voice-overs instead of dialogue, it has always been relatively easy — and relatively cheap — to translate them into French or German or even Chinese, and for several years G.E. has done so.
But lately BBDO has been calling on sister agencies in Shanghai and Europe to help it incorporate actual foreign sensibilities into ads. The Shanghai group, for example, came up with a print ad for desalination techniques that features a school of goldfish swimming in the ocean, with words suggesting that oceans could be reservoirs. Goldfish are ubiquitous in China, and most Chinese know they are freshwater fish and could survive only in salt-free water. “Americans would never get that,” Mr. Schneider said.
The converse is true too, of course. G.E. has been running a commercial in the United States that shows a tree “walking” across a field to embrace a house that uses green technologies. A man watching the incident calls the tree a “house hugger.” Since environmentalists are rarely called tree-huggers in China, the humor would fall flat.
But such cultural segmentation will not wash during the Olympics.