This month’s installment:
When good advertising goes horribly wrong…otherwise known as “lost in translation.”
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 Germany 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”.
In Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan, “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off”.
When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the U.S., with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later, they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since most people couldn’t read English.
Colgate introduced toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porn magazine.
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.
The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish-speaking countries. “No va” means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish.
Ford had a problem in Brazil with the Pinto, which was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals”. Ford renamed the automobile Corcel, meaning “horse”.
Not to be outdone, Toyota’s MR2 wa marketed in France, where it was pronounced “emm err deux”, which is a near homonym for “emmerde”, which means dung. It was changed to simply MR.
Hunt-Wesson introduced Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos. Later they found out that in slang it meant “big breasts”.
Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.
When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, “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”.
The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Ke-kou-ke-la”, meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent, “ko-kou-ko-le”, translating into “happiness in the mouth”.
Probably the most famous mis-translation of all is John Kennedy’s announcement to the people of Berlin, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” JFK thought he said “I am a citizen of Berlin!”. What he really said was “I am a jelly doughnut!” (“Berliner” is German for “jelly doughnut”)
No wonder Macs sold so well in Japan. Back when Microsoft was selling Windows 95, their ad slogan translated into Japanese as “If you don’t know where you want to go, we’ll make sure you get taken”.
Need more of Miss C’s lessons? Check out some past installments:
And plenty more under the “Communication” category off to the right of the blogs. Have fun!