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13 Marketing Translation Mistakes to Learn From

  |  March 30, 2011   |  Comments

What are your company slogans really saying around the world?

With advances in technology and social media, word of mouth has truly become "world of mouth." Many companies centralize their global Facebook and Twitter efforts. This has huge advantages, but it's also imperative to have involvement at the local level; from people who truly understand the market nuances and language. We live in a global economy and so it's imperative that we understand our world. Below are 13 (an unlucky number in some countries) examples of marketing translations gone wrong:

  1. The wildly successful "Got Milk" campaign from The Dairy Association when used in Mexico brought a lot of attention, since it translated as "Are You Lactating?"
  2. Coors Brewing's slogan "Turn it loose" when converted to Spanish means "Suffer from diarrhea" - uh…I think I'll just have an orange juice, please.
  3. Clairol launched a curling iron called "Mist Stick" in Germany. Mist in German is slang for manure. It turns out manure sticks aren't very popular in Germany.
  4. Matsushita and Panasonic were to launch a computer with an Internet browser in Japan. They were going to run a large marketing campaign using the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker. The campaign was put on hold when an American employee realized the translation was "Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker." This is very bad in American slang.
  5. Gerber kept the image of its smiley baby on its jars and packages when they entered the African market. Only later did the company realize, as a result of the low African literacy rate, many companies in Africa used pictures on labels to denote what’s inside.
  6. Pepsi in China translated its slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life." The slogan in Chinese literally means, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."
  7. Colgate launched toothpaste in France under the brand name Cue. Unfortunately, that is the same name as an ill-famed pornographic magazine.
  8. Parker Pen in Mexico wanted its advertisements to parlay "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Instead, the company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant." I guess it all depends on what you want out of a pen.
  9. Frank Perdue's line, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," is a bit different in Spanish - "It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate."
  10. Latte means milk in Italy. In English, latte is a coffee drink and its popularity increased with the growth of Starbucks. However, if you are in Germany, you might want to be careful what you order with your breakfast. A "morning latte" in German slang is when you wake up in the morning with an erection.
  11. Braniff International Airways wanted to highlight "Fly in Leather" but in Spanish it came out as "Fly Naked."
  12. Electrolux, a Scandinavian vacuum cleaner, used the following in the U.S.: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
  13. Pepsi lost market share in Southeast Asia when it changed its vending machines from deep blue to light blue. Light blue is a symbol of death and mourning in Southeast Asia. I guess soda is worse than we thought for you.



Erik Qualman

Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.

He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.

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