Here are some less-than-desirable consequences of branding initiatives in which a tagline was not validated thoroughly. These 10 mistranslations will have your laughing out loud, but they are also a serious warning for anyone seeking success in our modern, globalized ecosystem.
When Coors Beer expanded to Spanish speaking countries, executives at the company decided to keep their U.S. slogan, “Turn It Loose”, and simply translate it into Spanish. Unfortunately for the company, the translation that they used to market their beers didn’t convey the fun, carefree lifestyle they hoped. The translation? “Suffer from Diarrhea”.
Some Questions Just Shouldn’t Be Asked
One of the most popular advertising campaigns in recent memory was the Dairy Association’s “Got Milk?” campaign, which used celebrities boasting thick milk mustaches to market the beverage. The success of the campaign inspired the company to expand the slogan internationally. Unfortunately, Spanish-speaking countries didn’t get the same catchy slogan that English-speaking audiences knew and loved. Instead, Spanish speakers saw large billboards emblazoned with the question “Are You Lactating?”
When Homonyms Attack
The well-known Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer is popular both across Europe and in the United States. Their international success is likely due to a variety of factors, but this marketing campaigns certainly isn’t one of them. One of the more controversial slogans used in their campaigns stateside was “Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux”.
That Doesn’t Seem Possible … But Embarrassing? Yes!
When the upscale American pen maker marketed its ballpoint pen in Mexico, it decided to use the slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” in their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, the company didn’t enlist the services of a qualified translator. Assuming that “embarazar” meant to embarrass, they plastered their Spanish slogan across billboards and newspaper ads. Unfortunately, they found out later that “embarazar” actually translates to impregnate, meaning that their ad read “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.
That Would Really Hurt
Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in China may have noticed terrified customers avoid their store when they first opened in Beijing. The first store in the country advertised using the company’s popular slogan, “Finger lickin’ good”. However, KFC executives were likely shocked to learn that the Chinese translation of the slogan they used encouraged customers to “Eat your fingers off”.
What Would Freud Say About This?
When GM was marketing their newest Chevy model in Mexico and Latin America, they branded the car with the catchy name “Nova”. Unfortunately, the chosen name conveyed something a bit less desirable to their Spanish speaking target audience. “No va” translates to “It doesn’t go” in Spanish.
I Don’t Want That In My Hair
When Clairol brought its “Mist Stick” curling iron to Germany, the company decided to keep the products English name when selling and marketing it to German consumers. Unfortunately, the company saw low sales numbers for the curling iron in the German market. While many factors could contribute to poor sales, the fact that “mist” is German slang for “manure” may have been one of the reasons the product didn’t fly off the shelves.
Voodoo and Witchcraft
Pepsi may have scared off Chinese consumers when launching their product in China by not properly checking the translation of their slogan “Come alive with Pepsi”. The energy promised to consumers didn’t translate as hoped – instead of encouraging consumers to “come alive”, the company promised to “bring your ancestors back from the dead”.
Two Mistakes Lead to the Perfect Mistranslation
The massive chicken-product company joins the list of brand who blundered when translating their slogans to Spanish. The original slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken”, may have left in its wake a sea of confused Spanish-speaking consumers, as the translation instead read “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.
Globalization requires brands to effectively communicate with the target market in a language that is not their own. In today’s world, companies are always looking to expand beyond national borders and make a splash internationally. You can see evidence of this everywhere you look – U.S. shoppers flock to the Swedish furniture giant Ikea, while people in across the world sip bottles of Coke and eat McDonalds.
Whether you’re launching a humble e-commerce store or mobile app, or you have aspirations of being the next unicorn startup, the reality of linguistic issues should make you a bit uneasy and a lot more cautions about your naming and tagline decision.