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Global brands operate internationally. Most brands coordinate their communication with the language of the countries in which they operate. As you’ll soon see, it’s quite important to check that your name, logo, campaigns and tagline translate well into other languages. Brands usually delegate or outsource translations, but this does not always go according to plan.
We have selected some (hilarious) translation fails in advertising:
China translated “Finger Licking Good” (KFC) into a somewhat cannibalistic message.
Ford made the mistake of not translating the name of the Ford Pinto in Brazil. Pinto is the Brazilian Portuguese word for “small genitals”.
Mitsubishifailed as well in not translating their product name by introducing the Pajero to Europe. Pajero means in Spanish “wanker”.
Ikea introduced the “Fartfull workbench”. Although fartfull means “full speed” in Swedish, in the United Kingdom, the product was received with chuckles.
Nokia may not be the crème de la crème anymore when it comes to mobile phones but back in the day their launch of the ‘Lumia’ phone line made quite the impression in Spanish speaking countries. Lumia can be translated to prostitute in Spanish.
When Parker Pen expanded to Mexico, they translated their slogan for the Spanish speaking part of Mexico. “Embarrass” and “embarazá” do sound and look similar, therefore it was probably assumed that these words have the same meaning. However, “embarazá” means “impregnate” in Spanish. “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was translated to “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you”.
American beer maker Coors discovered that slang doesn't always translate well. When launching its "Turn it loose" campaign to Spain, it appears executives forgot to ensure the translation would resonate with consumers. When translated into Spanish, the tagline used an expression that's commonly interpreted as "suffer from diarrhea." While the campaign definitely got a lot of attention, it wasn’t the kind of attention Coors wanted.
Pepsodent advertised its toothpaste in a particular area in Southeast Asia by highlighting the fact that it ‘whitens your teeth.’ The campaign failed because the locals chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth since black teeth are considered the goal. Perhaps the company should have played the ‘health benefit’ card.
Paxam is an Iranian company selling a bunch of different consumer goods. One that didn’t go over so well in the English-speaking parts of the world was their laundry soap. In Farsi, they call it ‘snow’ in their marketing campaigns, but a mistranslation had the labels reading ‘barf.’ Pass!
While the famous "Got Milk?" campaign was very successful among English speakers in the States, Spanish speaking people wondered why the American Dairy Association would translate their slogan to "Are you lactating?"
The Russian company Gazprom created a joint venture with Nigeria’s state oil company and named the company "Nigaz".
When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, the company was unaware that the Spanish expression "No Va" means "It won’t go".
The Spanish word “puta” means prostitute. This didn’t stop Mazda though from launching the "Laputa" minivan claiming in the ads that "Laputa is designed to deliver maximum utility in a minimum space while providing a smooth, comfortable ride" and "a lightweight, impact-absorbing body."
The Honda Jazz was initially named "Fitta" until someone within Honda discovered that "fitta" is a vulgar word that refers to a woman’s genitals in Swedish. The slogan was supposed to be 'The all-new Fitta, small on the outside, big on the inside.'
Mc Donald’s Big Mac was initially supposed to be launched as "Gros Mec", which actually means "big pimp".
Hunt-Wesson Foods messed up when it introduced its baked beans in French Canada as "Gros Jos" without realising it was local slang for "big breasts". It didn’t hurt sales though.
The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela", which means "Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then tried to find a phonetic equivalent, eventually settling on "kokou kole", which translates as "happiness in the mouth".
Colgate launched toothpaste in France named "Cue" without realizing that it's also the name of a French pornographic magazine.
Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market under the brand name "Bensi," which means "rush to die."
To advertise their leather seats, American Airlines used the slogan "Fly in Leather", which translated in Spanish for the market in Mexico as "Fly naked".
If you wish to prevent translation errors, it is best to leave it in the hands of a trained professional. If you prefer to manage different languages internally, you can outsource the translations to a local office. This way, you prevent translation errors as well as contextual errors. While translating every small bit can seem like a hassle, it can pay off big time.
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