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10 translated slogans gone wrong

Lost in translation... here are mistakes that ten businesses would rather forget.
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Google has recently revealed plans to take its online translator to the next stage and combine it with mobiles to create “universal translators”. The concept being that the owner can talk into the device in their native tongue whist the receiver hears it on their own, similar to the ‘Babel fish’ from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

However, both consumers and businesses need to be aware that certain nuances in language can be lost in literal translation, in which the end result could be misunderstood. Whilst a slightly imprecise translation tool may be a successful aide for the tourist abroad, it would not be appropriate for businesses to rely on such technology as part of their communications strategy.

Companies should be aware that literal translation can cause a whole host of confusion. One example that Parker Pen would rather forget for their product was when they wanted advertisements in Mexico to translate as: “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.”

What they thought was clear instruction was misinterpreted to mean something else entirely! 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”.

But Parker Pen is far from being the only company to have fallen into the translation trap. 

Take a look at these ten translated slogans gone wrong:

1. Pepsi

The Pepsi slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated in Taiwanese became, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Not only a bit creepy by culturally, it was an insult.

2. Kentucky Fried Chicken

In China, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” became “eat your fingers off”. Again, implying an action considered rude and uncivilised in Chinese culture.

3. Coors

Beer manufacturer Coors tried to translate its slogan, “Turn it loose”, into Spanish. It went horribly wrong when it was read as “Suffer from diarrhoea”.

4. Perdue

Perdue’s slogan, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken”, translated in Spanish to, “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”.

5. American Airlines

To advertise their leather seats, American Airlines used the slogan, “Fly in Leather”, which translated in Spanish for the market in Mexico as, “Fly naked”.

6. Coca-cola

In China, the Coca-Cola name was first read as “ke-kou-ke-la”, meaning “Bite the wax tadpole”, or “Female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect.

7. General Motors

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, the company was unaware that “No Va” meant “It won’t go”.

8. Ford

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “Tiny male genitals”.

9. Schweppes

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated into “Schweppes Toilet Water”.

10. Kinki Nippon 

Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and kept receiving sex tour requests. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company quickly changed its name.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business