Thursday 03 July, 2014

International Marketing – The World’s Worst Translation Goof-ups

In global marketing, there is nothing more important than language localization. It’s a key part of any international marketing strategy. If you’re marketing to non-English speakers you need to get a good translation that’s culturally appropriate. Here are some famous examples of how companies screwed up royally in their translations.

The Zombie Apocalypse

One of the most famous examples is Pepsi’s bad translation of its slogan, ‘Come alive, you’re the Pepsi Generation.’ This slogan was mistranslated into Chinese and not properly checked by a native speaker before the campaign launched. The campaign told people in China something like, ‘Pepsi brings the dead back out of the grave.’

Here’s another morbid one. German makers of knapsacks often use the wrong terminology for their wares, calling them ‘body bags.’ That’s probably not the kind of bag you were looking for. It’s a little like U.S. advertisers using the term fanny pack (‘fanny’ is slang for the female genitalia in U.K. English).

Sexual Innuendo and Embarrassing Bodily Functions

When the American Dairy Association launched its popular ‘Got Milk?’ ad campaign in Latin America, they made a pretty big linguistic goof-up. The exact wording they used means something like ‘Are you lactating?’ in Spanish. Put that phrase together with an image of a person with milk on their lips and you have something truly gross.

There’s nothing like taking a sip of an ice cold beer and then rushing to the bathroom to spend some time on the porcelain throne. Coors made another Spanish-language slip-up when it translated its ‘Turn It Loose’ slogan into something that means ‘suffer from diarrhea’ in Spanish. American beer isn’t that bad, is it?

Purdue Chicken slaughtered its slogan, ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’ when it translated it en español as something like, ‘It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused.’

Japanese electronics maker Matsushita Electric must have been ecstatic when it gained the right to use Woody Woodpecker for its advertising. Luckily, an American on staff pointed out some problems with their slogan before ads went to print. It said – ‘Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.’

Clunkers, Murderers and Male Private Parts

Car names offer some of the funniest goof-ups. Car makers get creative with their names and often come up with names that mean something very different in other countries.

The most famous of these is the Chevy Nova. In Spanish, no va means it ‘doesn’t go.’ Not exactly what you want in a car. A similar thing happened to Ford. One of their cars is named the Probe, which in German means something like ‘test’ or ‘rehearsal.’ Isn’t the car ready for market?

Ford had to change the name of its Pinto in Brazil. Pinto is a slang term that refers to manly private parts of small size. Similarly, Honda had to rename its Fitta the Jazz because Fitta is slang in Nordic languages for the female parts.

Finally, American Motors had to change the name of its Matador for the Spanish market. Matador sounds cool enough but in Spanish it can be taken to mean killer or murderer. Anybody want to drive a killer?

Let’s Leave the Country… Fast

The above examples are funny and light-hearted, but the wrong advertising message could get you in serious trouble. Umbro discovered this when it had to withdraw its Zyklon sneakers after getting complaints from various organizations. Zyklon is the poison gas that was used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews.

In Northern Ireland, the telecom company Orange had to rethink its ads that said, ‘The future’s bright… the future’s Orange.’ In the North, the word Orange suggests the Orange Order, or the protestant loyalists. It’s probably not a winning marketing strategy to take sides in a heated conflict.

In India, Pepsi had to withdraw an ad where an Indian cricket team gets served Pepsi by a young boy. The ad led to a huge outcry in the Indian city of Hyderabad, which filed a lawsuit against the soda company claiming the ads glorified child labor.

Giant Ogres and Ground-up Babies

Finally, ads can simply scare the living crap out of people if not done right. There’s the famous story of the Jolly Green Giant’s failure to win over the Arab countries of the world. In Arabic, this amiable, healthy lifestyle promoting benevolent giant’s name was translated to something akin to ‘the Intimidating Green Ogre.’ Eat your vegetables… or else!

When baby food maker Gerber released its products in Africa, it wondered why they weren’t selling any in some areas. It turns out that in many countries there, the literacy rate is very low. Without the words telling consumers what the jars contained, they had to assume by the image of a smiling baby.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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