Saturday, April 02, 2011

International Marketing fiascos.

In making reference earlier in the week to marketing disasters, I came across some famous campaign slogans and names that didn’t translate all that well to foreign markets. Check these out.

Chevy Nova did not sell well in South and Central America. “No va” means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish.

Coors had a translation problem with their “Turn It Loose” campaign. In Spanish it means “Suffer From Diarrhea”.  Although that could just be truth in advertising.

The Spanish language was no friend to chicken czar Frank Perdue. His slogan, "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" translated to "it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."

More Spanish: When Parker Pen introduced a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." The ads really read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!"

“Mist” is slang for “manure” in German. So Clairol’s “Mist Stick” didn’t have the desired effect.

In China, Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave”. And it’s refreshing!

Finally,  this was my favorite: When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with that cute baby on the label. Trouble is, in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what's inside, since many people can't read. Yum!!

18 comments:

Brian Phillips said...

Bill Bryson's book, "The Mother Tongue", lists a couple if these, and adds a few. I cannot recall what the original was, but the Japanese equivalent was, "Bite the wax tadpole", which has become an expression for me, as in "That dinner I made really bit the wax tadpole."

Another bad translation was due to a magician's interpreter falling ill while touring in a foreign land. A substitute was found, and as the magician was performing the old trick of running a basket through with swords, while a woman is inside it, the magician was hearing laughter and not the nervous kind.

The interpreter was telling the audience what HE had been told prior to taking the job: "As the swords go through the basket, between her bent legs and arms..."

I wonder how the rest of the tour went.

Fidd Sinch said...

I too have heard about biting the wax tadpole, only it was allegedly in China. This explanation comes from Wikipedia (which also debunks the Nova assertion as an urban legend): "The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Chinese can sound like the words for "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax". Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele (pinyin romanization), which roughly means "let your mouth rejoice". It was never marketed by the company using the other phrases, though individual merchants may have made such signs.

Truth or fiction, it's still entertaining. Now, let your respective ______s rejoice!

Ryan Paige said...

I was in a furniture store recently, and they had a dinette set which was part of their "Notable Collection".

I assume it didn't sell well because English speakers would see that and think that the dinette set didn't come with a table.

Anonymous said...

The Nova story is actually an urban legend...
http://www.snopes.com/business/misxlate/nova.asp

Johnny Walker said...

"Bite the wax tadpole" is true, but maybe not in the way you think:

http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/tadpole.asp

Raymond said...

KFC's "We do chicken right" is translated into Chinese as "It is right to do chicken." Even worse: "chicken" is slang for "prostitute" and "do" is slang for, well, the same as in English.

Marie said...

In french gerber means to throw up or vomit. In Africa many people who can read speak french.

VP81955 said...

The Perdue slogan was actually "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Alliterative. (Heard enough of those ads on the radio when I lived in metro NYC in 1979 and '80.)

Loosehead said...

And of course the old English story about the electronics company GEC-Plessey Telecom, known to one and all as GPT, who tried to open up in France and couldn't understand why the French were smirking at the mention of their company name, until someone quietly told them GPT using the French pronunciation sounds like "j'ai pete" which means "I have farted".
Was that one sentence? Anyone turning blue yet?

rita said...

the 'mist stick', however, didn't fail for the resemblance with the word for manure, but for the resemblance with another german word, 'Miststück' = 'an irritating woman who is usually referred to as a female dog'.

Erika said...

Oh, what Spanish learner hasn't made the mistake of thinking "embarasada" means embarrassed? It's hilarious every time.

Pat Reeder said...

Several of your examples are in the chapter called "Don't Communicate Clearly" in my brilliant reverse self-help book, "Nine Hallmarks of Highly Incompetent Losers." Another of my favorites is from Skyharbor Airport in Phoenix, which once posted signs in Spanish for people arriving from Mexico. One was supposed to warn that you had to be 21 years old to drink in Arizona, but it actually said that you must have "21 anuses." Although to be fair, some people who are just returning from Mexico might feel as if they do have 21 anuses.

John said...

...on the other hand, the truth of the 1960s "Come Alive!" marketing campaign by Pepsi being misinterpreted by its Chinese translation into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead" is listed as 'undetermined' by Snopes.com. But if true, it would make for a great Goth-themed TV commercial today.

http://www.snopes.com/business/misxlate/ancestor.asp

VP81955 said...

And of course the old English story about the electronics company GEC-Plessey Telecom, known to one and all as GPT, who tried to open up in France and couldn't understand why the French were smirking at the mention of their company name, until someone quietly told them GPT using the French pronunciation sounds like "j'ai pete" which means "I have farted."

Reminds me of the story Ken has told here about when KHJ radio was renamed KKHJ when its ownership became separate from KHJ-TV, to meet FCC guidelines that radio stations must have four letters in their call signals (a few "grandfathered" ones, such as KNX or WOR, had the TV stations take new call letters when they were separated).

Anyway, the new owners made KKHJ a Spanish-language station, then soon asked the FCC for the right to revert back to KHJ. Why? Because spelling out the call letters at the top of the hour meant saying "ca-ca" on the air, which in Spanish refers to, well, excrement. The FCC, acting rationally for one, gave the approval, and the station is once again KHJ.

And Pepsi bringing your ancestors back from the dead? I guess if Coca-Cola is the "real thing," Pepsi must be the "surreal thing."

However, if the soda really had that power, I doubt Christina Crawford would be drinking any. (Heck, she probably got tired of the stuff when her adoptive mom married the Pepsico owner.)

Anonymous said...

1. Where are you getting your spanish lessons. Get your money back!!!
2. And the NOVA was sold in spanish speaking countries. We make jokes about the name but it was a NOVA.

JP

Bob Summers said...

Not to be racist, but you know the Nova thing has to be total bullshit, especially in Los Angeles. How many Mexicans have you seen driving one? You can't/couldn't throw a dead cat in some neighborhoods without hitting one.

thomas tucker said...

Reminds me of when i was translating Let It Be into French during high school. Somehow Let It Be sounds much better than Leave It Alone.

Anonymous said...

What strange pervs we must look like to non-Americans. Re: the Coors diarrhea comment. LOL! You're so good at finding good comedy fodder. Some of these comments are hilarious. Julie