Poor translation can lead to epic marketing blunders

The world’s your oyster so they say, but when it comes to international marketing the world’s your market might be a more appropriate adage. Marketers trying to globalize their brands look with envy at those already globalized brands whose look and feel seems to be identical across countries. However, globalizing a brand is not an easy task. Your brand name, logo, or slogan may have a startlingly different meaning in other languages and cultures. And, you might be surprised to learn that even big, well-known companies can have big blunders with poor translation. Here are eleven examples where globalizing a brand went terribly wrong because of mistranslations.

Don’t Get A Shock Because of a Poor Translation

  1. Braniff launched a campaign to promote their new leather seats with the slogan Fly in Leather. The Spanish translation they came up with was Vuela en Cuero. This was okay in some South American countries, but Mexicans read it as Fly Naked. Probably not the type of passenger Braniff was trying to recruit.
  2. Perdue’s slogan It Takes A Tough Man To Make A Tender Chicken got badly mangled when translated into Spanish. On billboards all over Mexico, Perdue proclaimed It takes a hard man to make a chicken affectionate.
  3. Parker Pen when entering the Mexican market mistranslated It Won’t Leak in Your Pocket and Embarrass You into It Won’t Leak in Your Pocket and Make you Pregnant
  4. Coors found out that its beer lost some fizz in Spain. Its cool sounding slogan Turn It Loose when translated into Spanish transformed itself into a colloquial term for having diarrhea. 
  5. The American Dairy Association conducted a very successful Got Milk? campaign in the US and decided it would work just as well in Spanish-speaking countries. However Got Milk? was translated into Are You Lactating? 
  6. Clairol brought out a curling iron with the brand name Mist Stick. This vapor wand beauty product sold like hotcakes in most countries. However, in Germany it turned out that mist is German slang for manure. While many farmers may have found a use for a Manure Stick, fair-haired frauleins did not.
  7. Procter & Gamble didn’t give too much thought to its brand name when it introduced Vicks into the German market. However, it was embarrassed to discover that Germans pronounce “v” as “f” turning Vicks into a German slang word for sexual intercourse.
  8. Puffs is a cutesy name for facial tissues made by Procter & Gamble. However, P&G failed to realize that Germany and the UK would not regard the name Puffs in the same light. In Germany puff is German slang for a brothel, and in the UK it’s a negative term used to describe a homosexual.
  9. Colgate launched a new toothpaste in France named Cue praising its cavity-reducing properties and the convenient size of the tube. However, they didn’t know that Cue was already well-known to French consumers as a popular erotic magazine. 
  10. Ford blundered big time when introducing the Pinto into Brazil. In Brazilian Portuguese Pinto means tiny male genitals. Ford had to give the Pinto the more macho name of Corcel, which is Brazilian Portuguese for horse.
  11. Nike was forced to recall thousands of products in Arabic speaking countries because a shoe decoration intended to resemble fire resembled the Arabic word for Allah. In Arab cultures, shoes are regarded as unclean because they come into contact with the ground. Moreover, if you want to insult someone, you throw a shoe at them. You certainly wouldn’t want to throw Allah during an argument.

What’s in a name? Or, for that matter, a brand? Well, a lot of headaches (and money) if you get it wrong. Poor understanding of cross-cultural differences when trying to market your brand in a different language and culture can mean an unsuccessful campaign – even worse, an offensive one. Marketing blunders not only mean a loss of profits, they can also damage your company’s reputation. For information on how Localize can help you manage your translations and avoid making costly mistakes when globalizing your brand, please contact us.