20 examples translation fails in advertising [That wil make you LOL]

Aug 13, 2020

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:

1. KFC

China translated “Finger Licking Good” (KFC) into a somewhat cannibalistic message.

2. Ford

Ford made the mistake of not translating the name of the Ford Pinto in Brazil. Pinto is the Brazilian Portuguese word for “small genitals”.

3. Mitsubishi

Mitsubishifailed as well in not translating their product name by introducing the Pajero to Europe. Pajero means in Spanish “wanker”.

4. Ikea

Ikea introduced the “Fartfull workbench”. Although fartfull means “full speed” in Swedish, in the United Kingdom, the product was received with chuckles.

The 8 Most Ill-Conceived Product Names of All-Time | Cracked.com

5. Nokia

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.

6. Parker Pen

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”.

Epic Fails within Brand Marketing

7. Coors

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.

The power of Coors | clairewouters

8. Pepsodent

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.Gel Pepsodent Toothpaste, Packaging Size: 200gm, Rs 110 /piece ...

9. Paxam

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!


10. American Dairy Association

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?"

Recruiting Globally? It's Not Just About Speaking Their Language ...

11. Gazprom

The Russian company Gazprom created a joint venture with Nigeria’s state oil company and named the company "Nigaz".

12. General Motors

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".

13. Mazda

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."

De Mazda LaPuta bestaat dus echt - TopGear Nederland

14. Honda

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.'

15. Mc Donald’s

Mc Donald’s Big Mac was initially supposed to be launched as "Gros Mec", which actually means "big pimp".
Fat Lace Magazine » Pimpin' with B.I.G. (Pimp C Obituary) (UPDATE)

16. Hunt-Wesson Foods

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.

17. Coca-Cola

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".

Together Tastes Better | Coca-Cola®

18. Colgate

Colgate launched toothpaste in France named "Cue" without realizing that it's also the name of a French pornographic magazine.

19. Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market under the brand name "Bensi," which means "rush to die."

3 expensive naming mistakes - Namzya Naming Agency

20. American Airlines

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".

Take a look at the new interior on American Airlines' refreshed 757s

Translation management

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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