Marketing fails: 15 brands that learned how to translate the hard way (2022)

So many companies leap at the chance to take their business across borders with excitement… unaware of the fact that they’re about to join the infamous rank of international marketing fails.

They think they’re taking along plenty of hard-earned know-how from home. But sometimes this all pales in comparison to a few little mix-ups when it comes to language. Borders might be disappearing, but cultural and language barriers still stand strong. If you’re thinking, “How hard could it be to translate a few simple words?”, we’ll let these examples do the talking…so to speak.

Translation traps are everywhere, be it a badly translated slogan, a company name or a cultural hiccup. Conquering new markets is about the right marketing, and marketing means translating ideas, not words. So, let’s take a look at:

Coors gets cornered
The first candidate for the best catch-phrase fail is the American brewing company, Coors. They learned the hard way that slang doesn’t translate well. When Coors introduced its cool ‘Turn It Loose’ campaign to the Spanish market, the company somewhat underestimated the importance of a proper translation. The translated version of the slogan used an expression commonly interpreted as ‘Suffer from diarrhoea.’ I’m sure they got plenty of attention for that one, but not for the right reasons!

It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant

Parker Pen’s embarrassing translation
Parker Pen company also suffered a tag-line fail, although for a different reason. Parker Pen’s slogan reassuringly claimed: ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’ Yet, when introducing their high-quality ball-point pens to the Mexican market the phrase read: ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.’ Why? It was a linguistic ‘false friend’: the Spanish ‘embarazar’ may sound similar to ‘embarrass’ but it really means to put one in the oven! Talk about slogan translation gone wrong…

Frank Perdue could also use a Spanish lesson
Chicken company Frank Perdue came up with a clever slogan in English: ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.’ Unfortunately, that didn’t go over quite so well in Spanish. It ended up meaning something like ‘It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate.’ Er…

(Video) Top 20 Worst Marketing Fails

With so many Spanish speakers in the world, how do these companies seem to be incapable of finding a single Spanish speaker to test their slogans on in the early stages?

Marketing fails: 15 brands that learned how to translate the hard way (1)

Paxam sells what?
Paxam is a company from Iran that sells a bunch of different consumer goods. One that didn’t go over so well was their laundry soap. In Farsi, they call it ‘snow’ in their marketing campaigns, but a mistranslation had the labels reading ‘barf.’ Yeah, we think we’ll pass on that soap.

Marketing fails: 15 brands that learned how to translate the hard way (2)

Perhaps a more truthful slogan for HSBC Bank
HSBC Bank made the classic mistake of literally translating their US campaign for overseas markets. Their slogan stateside was ‘Assume nothing.’ Too bad the resulting translation was interpreted as ‘Do nothing’. More accurate? Perhaps. More costly? Definitely. The bank had to spend around $10 million to correct the mistake and come up with a new slogan. They settled on ‘The world’s private bank.’

Pepsi…is… Lazarus?
But the winner of the slogan-translation-gone-wrong category is the victim of a misinterpreted metaphor: Pepsi. When Pepsi first launched its campaign in China, the translation of their slogan “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” was slightly more literal than the company intended. In Chinese, the slogan read, ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.’ Of course, brands often make exaggerated promises, but this one is a bit too out there. Anyway, if a zombie apocalypse indeed comes around, we know who to blame.

Sometimes there is no escape and a translation glitch is unavoidable. A name of a product or company that sounds cool in one language can easily fail you in another.

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Mercedes Benz, also in China
Mercedes Benz also had trouble in China! When entering the market, their name was rendered as ‘Bensi’ meaning ‘Rush to die’. Really NOT a good name for a car company! Fortunately, the company soon made changes and rebranded the poorly-translated company name to Benchi, meaning ’run quickly as if flying’. Close enough.

Braniff Airlines may attract some unusual customers
Braniff Airlines isn’t around anymore (it went bust, although the name is still trademarked), but their translation fail will be fondly remembered for a long time yet. In 1987, they launched a campaign about their new leather seats, and they wanted to let their customers in Latin America know about them, too. Their English-language slogan was ‘Fly in leather, which was translated into Spanish as ‘Vuela en cuero.’ This was okay in lots of Latin America, but in Mexico, it meant ‘Fly naked.’ Probably not the message they wanted to send!

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IKEA makes a misstep
Those IKEA names are pretty funny, but one, in particular, provoked more giggles than others. That would be the ‘FARTFULL’, which was supposed to be a play on the word for speed (fährt) because the desk was easy to move around due to its wheels. Funnily, that’s not what people remembered from this advertising campaign.

Marketing fails: 15 brands that learned how to translate the hard way (3)

Vicks for ze Germans
The most unfortunate case of badly-translated brand products is Vicks when introducing their cough drops in Germany. It was only after the product release that the company learnt the German pronunciation of “v” is “f,” which makes ‘Vicks’ sound exactly like the German expletive for (pardon our French) ‘fuck’. The company was soon renamed Wicks for all German-speaking markets, but the joke lives on…

Sometimes a brand gets the words right but still fails to ‘translate’ the message. Why? Well, it’s not always what you say but how you say it.

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The future’s bright…the future’s Protestant loyalist.

Orange doesn’t mean orange
Orange, a French mobile network operator, touched a sore spot when expanding abroad to Northern Ireland. The problem here is that they failed to realise that language is also culture and carries social and political weight too. When the company launched its slogan ‘The future’s bright…the future’s Orange’, Catholics in Northern Ireland were really not impressed. They associate the term ‘Orange’ with the ‘Orange Order’… so to them, the slogan meant: ‘The future’s bright…the future’s Protestant loyalist.’ Talk about brand blunder…

Pepsodent’s brand simply didn’t translate, at all
Similarly, Pepsodent advertised its toothpaste in a particular area in Southeast Asia by highlighting the fact that it ‘whitens your teeth.’ The campaign was doomed to fail because the locals chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth since it is considered more attractive. Perhaps the company should have played the ‘health benefit’ card. Marketing means translating ideas, but correct ideas!

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Procter & Gamble get the packaging wrong
When Procter & Gamble launched Pampers diapers in Japan, they printed on the packaging the typical image of a stork delivering a baby, but the product did not perform very well. After some research, the company found out that customers were confused by the image of the stork with a baby. In Japan, the story goes that giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents… Beware of cultural references!

Gerber also gets the packaging wrong
In some African countries, including Ethiopia where this misstep happened, foods are sold with a picture of what’s inside on the label. That’s because a lot of consumers can’t read. So it’s not surprising that many people were scandalised by Gerber’s baby food labels… which featured pictures of an adorable smiling baby!

FIAT chooses the wrong spokesperson
Who could be a better spokesperson for your luxury cars than suave actor Richard Gere? FIAT did a series of ads where he was shown driving from Hollywood all the way to Tibet in his Lancia Delta. Those ads didn’t go over very well in China. Why? Gere has said he supports the Dalai Lama on multiple occasions and as a result, is hated by lots of people in China. In response to the ads, online message boards blew up with messages about how they would never buy anything from FIAT again.

(Video) 10 Hilarious Brand Name Fails

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FAQs

What are some marketing fails? ›

Here are some examples of marketing fails that made us wince:
  • Pepsi: Kendall Jenner TV Spot. ...
  • Dove: Body Positive Packaging. ...
  • McDonald's: UK TV Spot. ...
  • Ford: Print Misfire. ...
  • Sony: "Racist" Print Ad. ...
  • Burger King: Smartphone Campaign. ...
  • Audi: Chinese Wedding Commercial. ...
  • Adidas: Boston Marathon Email.
24 Feb 2020

How was Perdue Chicken slogan translated in another language? ›

Perdue Chicken

In English, the slogan is, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.” But in Spanish, it translated to, “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

How do I fix Google Translate mistakes? ›

To improve your language, you can assess or suggest changes to translations in Google Translate.
...
Assess & suggest translations
  1. Click to assess the translation, or choose Suggest an edit.
  2. Enter a new translation in the text box.
  3. Click Submit.

What is the weirdest language on Google Translate? ›

Here are 8 surprising languages that Google can't translate.
  • Cantonese. With around 60 million native speakers, Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau. ...
  • Odia or Oriya. Which language: ...
  • Bhojpuri. ...
  • Maithili. ...
  • Oromo. ...
  • Fula. ...
  • Quechua. ...
  • Mayan Languages.

How can marketing failures be prevented? ›

How to Avoid Bad Marketing
  1. Stay true to your values. Many marketing mishaps could be avoided if the company focused on staying true to their values. ...
  2. Understand your audience. ...
  3. Be involved in the decision. ...
  4. Say “no” to bad ideas. ...
  5. Watch out for design by committee. ...
  6. Get feedback. ...
  7. Know the risks.

Why do marketing strategies fail? ›

They don't have concrete goals

Many marketers fail simply because they don't know what they're working towards. Your company can avoid this by setting concrete goals. When each member of your team knows exactly what they need to accomplish, they're more likely to do it.

Are you lactating tagline? ›

1. Forget about literal translation
Sample slogan:“Got Milk?” (American Dairy Association)
Translation blunder:“Are you lactating?” (Spanish-language ads run in 2001)
What went wrong?When asked in Spanish, this well-meaning and wildly popular phrase implies readiness to breast-feed rather than eagerness to drink dairy.
1 more row
18 Dec 2014

What is the most accurate language translator? ›

DeepL Translate: The world's most accurate translator.

What kinds of mistakes does Google Translate make and why? ›

In short, firstly, Google Translate cannot recognise idioms, or cases where the same word may take a different meaning, depending on the context (mononyms). Secondly, there is no checking of the translation. There may be an error in the translation, in a language that you do not speak, and it would go unnoticed.

What is the most unknown language in the world? ›

Current data states that there are only 7 remaining speakers of the language. Written records are available, such as a dictionary and several books that show the grammar and syntax of the Dumi language. Dumi is the world's least spoken language and one of the rarest.

How do you fix a marketing strategy? ›

10 Simple Ways to Fix and Improve Your Marketing Strategy
  1. Test Your Website. ...
  2. Create a Consistent Brand Story. ...
  3. Check Your Language. ...
  4. Optimize Content for Search Engines. ...
  5. Blog More Frequently. ...
  6. Use an Editorial Calendar. ...
  7. Promote Your Business on Social Media. ...
  8. Use More CTAs.
20 Nov 2019

What is a bad marketing strategy? ›

Some bad marketing strategies to avoid at all costs include filler advertising, spamming, cold calling, not doing enough research, and not paying attention to market trends.

Why do most strategies fail? ›

They're goals. Many strategy execution processes fail because the firm does not have something worth executing. The strategy consultants come in, do their work, and document the new strategy in a PowerPoint presentation and a weighty report.

How does poor marketing affect a business? ›

Failing to develop a marketing plan can result in budget problems, low customer volume and, in a worst-case scenario, the closure of a business.

What is strategic failure? ›

Strategic planning failure occurs when businesses cannot identify and solve issues surrounding disruptive software systems to achieve their corporate goals.

Are you lactating meaning? ›

Lactation describes the process of making and secreting milk from your breast.

How do you Translate accurately? ›

How to get an accurate translation?
  1. Make sure your translator has the in-depth, specialised subject knowledge you need. ...
  2. Look for a well-organized team or company of translators. ...
  3. Step 3: To err is human, to check divine. ...
  4. Find a translation vendor with a DTP team who can handle any file type.

What is the best two way translator? ›

1. Pocketalk Two-Way Voice Translator (Model S) Pocketalk is one of the biggest names in pocket translators, and their new S model is probably the best all-around device. Like their older, best-selling device, the Pocketalk S offers fast, two-way translation between 82 languages.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Google Translate? ›

Pros
  • Google Translate is fast. ...
  • Google Translate is free. ...
  • Google Translate is convenient. ...
  • It's not ideal for confidential documents. ...
  • Google Translate cannot provide a perfectly accurate translation. ...
  • There is no proofreading. ...
  • It requires Internet connection to use Google Translate.
22 Nov 2017

What language is Google Translate best at? ›

  • Google Translate is better at translating into English than any other language.
  • Spanish is the second easiest language for Google to Translate.
  • Italian and German are the hardest languages for Google to translate.
12 Jul 2022

Is Google Translate always accurate? ›

The answer to how accurate Google translate is is 85%, according to a survey conducted by Google in 2017. Google Translate is a simple-to-use software that allows you to interact quickly and learn foreign languages. The translation service switches text and speech back into any language.

What is a good translation tool? ›

5 best machine translation software options in the market
  • Google Translate. Google Translate needs no introduction, being probably the most well-known machine translation software out there. ...
  • DeepL Translator. ...
  • Bing Microsoft Translator. ...
  • SYSTRAN Translate. ...
  • Amazon Translate.
12 Jan 2022

What app do professional translators use? ›

Trados is the most widely-used desktop translation tool, especially among companies, LSPs, and translation agencies.

What is a good translation? ›

A good translation is imperceptible. It reads as if the book were written in the language into which it has been translated. Within the text, the translator is invisible. A good translation removes the barrier imposed by an unfamiliar language and allows the writer to communicate directly with the foreign reader.

What's the easiest language to learn? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers -...
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

What is the slowest language to speak? ›

Mandarin. Mandarin is the slowest recorded language with a rate as low as 5.18 syllables per second.

What country only has one language? ›

Officially recognized languages are often mistaken for official languages. According to the online reference Wikipedia, half the countries of the world have official languages. Some have only one official language, such as Albania, France, Germany and Lithuania.

What is the rarest language 2022? ›

A Look at Some of the World's Rarest Languages
  • Njerep. In Nigeria, there are still four individuals who speak Njerep. ...
  • Kawishana. Kawishana or Kaixana is native to Brazil. ...
  • Paakantyi. Varying reports about the actual number of active speakers of Paakantyi exist. ...
  • Liki. ...
  • Sarsi. ...
  • Chemehuevi. ...
  • Pawnee.
31 Aug 2022

What was the first language Jesus spoke? ›

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic.

What is the most spoken language in the world 2022? ›

Online language tool Babbel reports that English is the most spoken language in the world, with a number of speakers totaling more than 1.4 billion in 2022, according to Statistic & Data. This combines both native and non-native speakers.

What is a fun language to learn? ›

Spanish. Its usefulness aside (more than 400 million people speak it natively), Spanish is really entertaining to learn, especially in your first few classes when your mind will be filled with images of Speedy Gonzales, Puss in Boots, Dora the Explorer and other Latino or Spanish characters.

Which language is hardest to learn? ›

Generally, if you're an English speaker with no exposure to other languages, here are some of the most challenging and difficult languages to learn:
  • Mandarin Chinese.
  • Arabic.
  • Vietnamese.
  • Finnish.
  • Japanese.
  • Korean.

What is the rarest European language? ›

Manx is a Celtic language spoken on the Isle of Man. Like Cornish, it has narrowly escaped extinction. The last native Manx speaker passed away in 1974.

What's an example of a viral marketing attempt that failed? ›

The Fake Hoverboard That Fooled Everybody

Finally, they had the chance to be Marty McFly. But just as quickly as their dreams were realized, they were snatched away. How so? It was revealed that the boards were nothing more than viral marketing for Funny or Die.

Why do advertisements fail? ›

Too much product knowledge often leads them to talk about features that prospective customers don't really care about, or answer questions no one is asking. UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS. Advertisers often claim to have what the customer wants, such as “highest quality at the lowest price,” but fail to offer any evidence.

What are some examples of great marketing? ›

Top 11 great marketing strategy examples and 1 you shouldn't follow
  • Spotify: offering an alternative user experience. ...
  • Nordstrom: Retargeting campaigns. ...
  • GoPro: User-generated content. ...
  • Sephora: Loyalty programs. ...
  • Rainforest alliance: “Follow the Frog.” ...
  • Twitch: Niche-specific marketing. ...
  • Nike: “Just Do It” – promoting values.
23 Sept 2021

Which company has an international marketing campaign that failed? ›

HSBC Bank. HSBC Bank was forced to rebrand after a failed international marketing campaign. In 2009, the worldwide bank spent millions of dollars on its 5-year-old “Assume Nothing” campaign.

When an advertising campaign fails to achieve its objectives it is called? ›

When an advertising campaign fails to achieve its objectives, we call it waste. The major objectives of advertisement are to attract attention, to arouse interest, to create a desire, and to induce to action. If an advertisement fails to arrest our attention, it becomes a waste.

What's an example of another viral marketing campaign that was successful? ›

1. Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Campaign. Old Spice is still the king of viral marketing with its humorous and out-of-the-box ad campaigns. It came out with its brand character, the Old Spice man who appeared in “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign in 2010.

Can viral marketing backfire? ›

Alienating your audience is a common viral mistake. People want to get noticed and may cross the line with hopes that no one will take offense. Go too far, however, and your plan will backfire.

Why do marketing teams fail? ›

Top 10 Reasons Why Marketing Is Failing

Poor visibility into the true cost of ineffective customer communication. Lack of clear differentiation among messaging, content, and conversations. Inaccurate model of the categories, styles, and types of messaging required for market success. Misguided priority setting.

Why do advertisements sometime fail to impress give reason? ›

Unimpressive appeals. The advertisement will be a failure, if the advertisement copy is not properly prepared. The subject matter of advertisement has to be carefully written by the copywriter. Otherwise, it will not create a good impact on the buyer.

When marketing campaigns or projects fail How do you respond? ›

7 Ways to Correct a Failing Marketing Strategy
  1. Give it more time. ...
  2. Differentiate it. ...
  3. Make a more valuable offer. ...
  4. Retarget to fit your audience. ...
  5. Segment (and AB test) your strategy. ...
  6. Align your individual tactics. ...
  7. Try a new strategy (or scale up).
21 Aug 2017

Which marketing strategy is most effective? ›

Most effective marketing strategy: Content marketing

If you are looking for the overall most effective marketing strategy for small business, content marketing is the winner.

How do you make a powerful marketing message? ›

A good message should be engaging, to the point, memorable, and lead to a purchase decision.
  1. Know your target audience. ...
  2. Focus on a few themes and keep your message simple. ...
  3. Differentiate your product or service from competitors' offerings. ...
  4. Emphasize what is fresh and new about your products or services.

Why some brands fail in other countries? ›

Brands fail when launching their brands globally due to making too many assumptions about what will work en masse. A lack of research and forgetting to formulate a strong global sales strategy means that many brands end up misunderstanding their desired marketplace and therefore end up failing to sell globally.

What are some reasons that a business may fail in another country? ›

Why Companies Fail in International Expansion Efforts
  • Expansion for the Wrong Reason. ...
  • False Assumptions About the Nature of the International Market. ...
  • Underestimating the Operating Costs in an International Market. ...
  • Exporting your Domestic Operations to the Local Market. ...
  • Deciding to Become a Global Company Too Late.
17 Apr 2018

What are some ways to avoid international marketing mistakes? ›

Cross-reference your campaign with local experts before promoting it. This step will help to gain greatly needed insider oversight and feedback. Observe successful marketing ads in your target country. This could be a great tactic to help ensure efficiency for your brand in that market.

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