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.
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.
Signs and Notices 01
These are supposedly actual signs that have appeared at various locations.
Found written on the wall in front of a photocopier of a company going through hardships : " DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE - XEROX YOUR PAYCHECKS "
At a car dealership in Maryland to announce new seat belt legislation: "Belt your family. It's the law."
Seen while traveling in the Yucatan Peninsula: "Broken English spoken perfectly"
At an Applebee's restaraunt: "NOTICE: AFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY! A new 6% tax will be charged for the cost of collecting taxes!"
Fitness Center sign: "Self Esteem is feeling good about yourself - regardless of the facts."
In restaurant: "Open seven days a week and weekends."
On the freeway in Boston during a MAJOR transformation of the streets and bridges, etc: "Rome wasn't built in a day. If it was we would have hired their contractor."
A sign in front of an advertising agency in south superhighway, Philippines: "A BUSINESS WITH NO SIGN IS A SIGN OF NO BUSINESS"
A sign in front of a Macadamia Nut Factory in Hawaii: "Caution: Nuts crossing road."
Fortune Cookie Mistake
The following is supposedly a true story. To be included, besides being true, the story is most likely strange, weird, surprising, or funny.
On Saturday last, I had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. My fortune read: "You will gain admiration from your pears." Comice? Bartlett? Canned? I don't grow or eat them, anyway.