The prospects of reaching new customers and catapulting revenue make expanding to international markets is a winning strategy for any company. However, while globalization has broken borders and made the world smaller, language and cultures have not been broken.
And nowhere is this clearer than in words.
Examples of translation mishaps are everywhere; from badly-translated slogans to brand names that face a cultural backlash. For this reason, companies need to do their homework right before venturing into new markets.
Here are 6 hilarious marketing instances by famous brands that got lost in translation.
When Mercedes was expanding, one of the markets it wanted to conquer with its vehicles was China. However, in Chinese, the company’s name was translated as “Bensi”, which means “Rush to Die”. Now, you will agree that this is not really a company you would want to buy a car from.
On realizing this, the company rebranded the name to Benchi, which means “running quickly as if flying”. This is what you would expect from a car manufacturer.
Pepsi really outdid themselves when they launched the “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” campaign in China. However, the Chinese translation of the slogan was more literal than was expected. In Chinese translation, the slogan read, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."
We wonder how many customers bought Pepsi with the hope of resurrecting their ancestors.
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Don’t literally translate all your US campaigns for foreign markets like HSBC Bank did. Their slogan across the US was “Assume Nothing” but this did not work out in translation. In some countries, the translation was interpreted as “Do Nothing”.
HSBC has to fork out about $10 million to correct this mistake and also come up with a new slogan: “The world’s private bank”.
Paxam is an Iranian company that sells different consumer goods. One of their products is a laundry soap known as “snow” in Farsi.
When Paxam decided to target the English market, they must have used an auto-translation software as the mistranslation ended up reading “barf”.
Would you buy “barf” detergent? We don’t think so.
Believe it or not, selecting a name for a model car is a tough job. Just ask General Motors.
The company launched a small car call the “Nova”. Marketing the car to consumers in all regions went well, except for Italians and Spanish. In these two languages, “nova” is closely related to the words “don’t go”. Now, while the Nova wasn’t a sports car, the company did want consumers to think that it didn’t go.
GM has to change the name of Nova to Corsa when they realized the problem in Italy and Spain.
American brewing company, Coors, found out the hard way that they needed professional translation services. When entering the Spanish market, it was quickly realized that slang doesn’t translate well. Its cool “Turn It Loose” slogan campaign when translated in Spanish was an expression that was regularly used to mean “Suffer from diarrhea”. So much for the attention, they were seeking.
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