Who ever said that understanding a language was easy? The only thing that may be more difficult is to understand a local custom or tradition with the intent to sell something to them. All of these companies certainly are guilty of ignoring local customs or not paying attention to how things directly translate to a new language. Here’s a few examples of some marketing campaigns gone wrong when things get lost in translation.
As Pepsi began expanding their market in China, their catchy slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” had been widely popular in English speaking countries as well as in other languages. When introduced in China, the slogan literally meant “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”. It was certainly never Pepsi’s original intention to deliver that message, although the slogan may have ended up getting a few unintentional sales after all!
Unfortunately for Pepsi, they didn’t seem to learn from their lesson the first time around, and lost a significant share of their market in Southeast Asia by not paying attention to local customs. Pepsi redesigned many of their vending machines to be light blue, but unbeknownst to them, light blue is the color of death and mourning in Southeast Asia.
Everyone recognizes the cute baby face on Gerber’s baby food jars and other products. It’s a brand they’ve been building for decades, and it’s recognized all over the world. When they introduced baby food to countries in Africa, they failed to realize how many of the food products in Africa are labeled. Because literacy rates are low in many African countries, local food companies use labels to denote what’s actually inside the jar. You can only imagine the horror of people when they saw the image of a baby on the side of a jar in a store.
The Dairy Association
One of the more recent translation mishaps occurred with the widely known and somewhat successful “Got Milk?” campaign led by the Dairy Association. When introduced to Mexico, they never altered their successful slogan and “got milk?” directly translated to “are you lactating?” in Spanish.
In another example of a company that isn’t very good at Spanish, Coors used to use the catchy slogan “Turn it Loose” for all of their marketing needs. Unfortunately for them, when translated directly to Spanish it was understood as slang for “Suffer from Diarrhea”. Certainly not the message Coors would want to market about their beer.
- License: Creative Commons image source
This article was contributed by 7C Lingo, which provides language translation services and cross-cultural communication for a variety of organizations.