Friday, May 11, 2012

10 Famous Translation Mistakes In Marketing


One of the many problems that corporations face when expanding their business globally is not only the proper translation but the appropriate localization of their products’ names and slogans. Over the years, there have been many, many examples of directly translated product names, slogans, and catchphrases that have offended and/or confused consumers, and sometimes completely embarrassed the company responsible. Here is a list of ten of the more famous product name and slogan translation/localization mistakes.

10) Fried chicken fast food chain KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) faced problems when their world famous catchphrase “Finger Lickin’ Good” was translated into Chinese as “Eat Your Fingers Off”. 

9) When General Motors introduced their Chevrolet Nova to Central and South America, apparently their marketing department overlooked the very simple Spanish phrase "No va", meaning "It Doesn't Go".

8) The California Milk Processor Board launched their famous "Got Milk?" campaign in 1993, to huge success. However, Mexican residents in the US were confused by the rather personal question "Are You Lactating?” (“¿Tiene Leche?”).

7) In 1977, Braniff Airlines installed leather seats in their first class cabins, and followed up with an ad campaign featuring the slogan "Fly in Leather". Unfortunately, in Spanish, “Vuela en Cuero(s)” translates to "Fly Naked".

6) Pepsi used the "Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation" slogan from 1963 to 1967, which helped them to become a real competitor to Coca-Cola. However, the slogan frightened some Chinese, to whom it meant "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".

5) Coors, the Colorado brewing company, had another slogan unfortunately translated into Spanish. "Turn It Loose", when translated in Spanish, carries the meaning "Suffer from Diarrhea" (“Sueltalo”).

4) Parker Pen's famous slogan "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you" was also translated into Spanish, the results of which confused many Mexican consumers with its claims that "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant" (“No goteará en tu bolsillo dejándote embarazado”).

3) Frank Perdue's slogan, created for its chicken products, said "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken". Translated in Spanish, it became "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.

2) The Coca-Cola name in China was first translated as "Kekou-kela", meaning - depending on the dialect - "Bite the Wax Tadpole" (蝌蝌). Coke then researched 40,000 characters, finally finding a suitable phonetic equivalent - "kokou-kole" – which meant "Happiness in the Mouth."

1) Finally, we have the extremely unfortunate mistranslation of the instructions pertaining to two baby food products by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, which had to be recalled. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, if both products were prepared according to the incorrect Spanish translation, they could have caused seizures, irregular heartbeat, renal failure, and death. Whoops!

There are obviously many, many more examples of mistranslations and “mislocalizations,” as the case may be, but these are some of the most famous. To this day, especially here in Japan, less than well-thought out product names and slogans continue to abound. With the spread of globalization, and with the so-called “shrinking” of the world, it sometimes amazes me that there are still companies which don’t bother to properly localize when moving into the global market. Of course, I’m actually glad that there are, as these things never fail to provide light entertainment.