Lost in Translation

This airline successfully touted their new leather seats in the US with the tagline “Fly in Leather.” When it came time to launch their campaign in Spanish, the translation let them down! While somewhat appropriate in various parts of Latin America, in Mexico it had quite a different connotation. The translated tagline “Vuela en Cuero” was interpreted as “Fly Naked” in Mexico. While humorous to some, this was clearly not the intended message.
Auto giant Ford had a similar translation trip-up when they attempted to launch their successful US campaign that said "Every car has a high-quality body" to the European market. When translated (without the localization expertise of Technical Language Services), the slogan became "Every car has a high-quality corpse.” We’ve heard of getting a free gift with purchase ... but this surely not what European car buyers – or Ford executives - were expecting!
When it comes to launching an American fast-food brand in a foreign country, a good impression is vital. KFC suffered from a rough first impression when launching the franchise in China. When opening its brand up to the Beijing market, a mistake in the translated slogan was less than appetizing. The well-known US signature “Finger Lickin’ Good” was translated as “Eat Your Fingers Off”.
This well-known Swedish furniture retailer faced its own translation blunder when it attempted to launch a mobile children’s bench in the US. In this case, the problem occurred when the decision was made to NOT translate. The company decided to leave the Scandinavian product name in place. The name, which means “speedy” in Swedish, is pronounced “Fartfull” in the US. Needless to say, not a huge hit with American parents (though it surely got a giggle or two from their kids)!
It’s shocking to think a marketing giant such as Pepsi could make an easily avoidable translation blunder…but they did! When launching its new slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” in China, the results were offensive and costly when it was interpreted by the local market as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back to Life”.
Panasonic and Matsushita were preparing to launch a computer with a built-in internet connection in America. The marketing campaign used the iconic cartoon character Woody Woodpecker and a translated slogan. The blunder was caught ONE DAY before the marketing campaign was scheduled to launch ... with the translated message “Touch Woody, the Internet Pecker!” American consumers would not have been lining up to buy that one!

The examples could go on and on… Check back here for new ones, or send us your favorites! While they garner a good chuckle (to those of us who weren’t responsible for the mistakes!), these types of blunders can and do cost companies millions of dollars every year. The first mistake? Not hiring a qualified, personally involved, localization translation company. If you’re going to do it – do it right!

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
— Mark Twain

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