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True Marketing Errors

Below are fine examples of what happens when marketing translations fail to reach a foreign country in an understandable way.

  • Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose" into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea."
  • Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick" a curling iron, into German only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the "manure stick".
  • Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.
  • The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem-Feeling Free", was translated into the Japanese market as "When smoking Salem, you will feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."
  • When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since most people can't read English.
  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of, "I saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the potato" (la papa).
  • In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into "Schweppes Toilet Water."
  • Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave," in Chinese.
  • When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass. Instead the ads said that "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
  • The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
  • Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."
  • When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
  • Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

Dear Ann Dilemma

Dear Ann,

I am facing a very serious problem. You see, I am a Vietnam-era deserter from the U. S. Marines, and I have a cousin who works for Microsoft. My mother peddles Nazi literature to Girl Scouts, and my father - a former dentist - is in jail for 30 years, for raping most of his patients while they were under anesthesia. The sole supports of our large family, including myself and my $500-a-week heroin habit, are my uncle Benny (a master pick-pocket nicknamed "The Fingers"), my 70-year-old aunt Hester (a shoplifter), and my two kid sisters (who are well-known streetwalkers.)

My problem is this: I have just gotten engaged to the most beautiful, sweetest girl in the world. She is only 16 years old, so we are going to marry as soon as she can escape from reform school. To support ourselves, we are going to move to Mexico and start a fake Aztec souvenir factory staffed by child labor. We look forward to bringing our kids into the family business.

But, I am worried that my family will not make a good impression on hers. Should I, or shouldn't I, tell her about my cousin who works for Microsoft?

Try Joining the Mafia

This guy, Artie, gets tired of working so hard and not getting anywhere, and seeing all these guys in the Mafia in their fine three piece suits and fancy cars, decides that he has to join the Mafia. He goes up to one of the guys and says, "I want to join the Mafia." The guy answers, "You ever kill any one for money?" Artie answers, "No." The guy says, "Well, you either got to be born into the mafia, or you gotta kill somebody for money." So Artie says, "How much will you pay me?" The guy says, "I'm not gonna pay you." Artie says, "C'mon, just pay me a dollar so I can get in." The guy says, "Okay, I'll tell you what. You kill somebody, tell me about it, and if I see it in the morning paper, I'll pay you a dollar." Artie says, "Oh thank you, thank you!" and heads off on his mission. He goes to Ralphs Supermarket, sees an old lady pushing a cart, and decides that she's lived a full life, goes up to her, grabs her round the neck and chokes her to death. The bag boy sees him, and chases after him. Artie realizes that he can't out run the bag boy, turns around, grabs the bag boy by the neck and chokes him to death. In the morning paper the headlines read, " ARTIE CHOKES TWO FOR A DOLLAR AT RALPHS!" 

Wilson's Nails

Wilson runs a nail factory and decides his business needs a bit of advertising. He has a chat with a friend who works in marketing, and he offers to make a television ad for Wilson's Nails. "Give me a week," says the friend, "and I'll be back with a tape." A week goes by and the marketing executive comes to see Wilson. He puts a cassette in the video and presses play. A Roman soldier is busy nailing Jesus to the cross. He turns to face the camera and says with a grin, "Use Wilson's Nails, they'll hold anything." Wilson goes mad, shouting, "What is the matter with you? They'll never show that on television. Give it another try, but no more Romans crucifying Jesus!" Another week goes by and the marketing man comes back to see Wilson with another tape. He puts it in the machine and hits play. This time the camera pans out from a Roman standing with his arms folded to show Jesus on the cross. The Roman looks up at him and says, "Wilson's Nails, they'll hold anything." Wilson is beside himself. "You don't understand. I don't want anything with Jesus on the cross! Now listen, I'll give you one last chance. Come back in a week with an advertisement that I can broadcast." A week passes and Wilson waits impatiently. The marketing executive arrives and puts on the new video. A naked man with long hair, gasping for breath, is running across a field. About a dozen Roman soldiers come over the hill, hot on his trail. One of them turns to the camera and says, "If only we had used Wilson's Nails!"

Actual Product Instructions

ON A HAIRDRYER: *Do not use while sleeping.

ON A BAG OF FRITOS: *You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

ON A BAR OF DIAL SOAP: *Directions: Use like regular soap.

FROZEN DINNER SERVING SUGGESTION: *Defrost.

ON A HOTEL-PROVIDED SHOWER CAP IN A BOX: *Fits one head.

ON TESCO'S TIRAMISU DESSERT: *Do not turn upside down. (Printed on the bottom of the box.)

ON MARKS & SPENCER BREAD PUDDING: *Product will be hot after heating.

ON PACKAGING FOR A ROWENTA IRON: *Do not Iron clothes on body.

ON BOOTS CHILDRENS COUGH MEDICINE: *Do not drive car or operate machinery.

ON NYTOL (A SLEEP AID):  *Warning: May cause drowsiness. 

ON A KOREAN KITCHEN KNIFE: *Warning: Keep out of children.

ON A STRING OF CHINESE MADE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS: *For indoor or outdoor use only.

ON A JAPANESE FOOD PROCESSOR: *Not to be used for the other use.

ON SAINSBURY'S PEANUTS: *Warning: contains nuts

ON AN AMERICAN AIRLINES PACKET OF NUTS: *Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.

ON A SWEDISH CHAINSAW: *Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.