For those of us who are confused when traveling to another country… try advertising in them! I have been collecting these “lost in translation” advertising slogans for sometime and thought I would share them with our readers. These beg the question, Are you saying what you want to say?
WARNING: some of these are a bit racy.
• Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea.”
• The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela,” meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax,” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokou kole,” translating into “happiness in the mouth.”
• In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into “Schweppes Toilet Water.”
• American manufacturers of Pet condensed milk introduced their product into French markets without realizing that “pet” in French means “to break wind.”
• An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa), the shirts read “I saw the potato” (la papa).
• Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick,” a curling iron, into German only to find out that “mist” is slang for manure. Not too many people had a use for the “manure stick.”
• The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, “Salem-Feeling Free,” was translated into the Japanese market as “When smoking Salem, you will feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty”.
• Bacardi concocted a fruity drink with the name “Pavian” to suggest French chic…but “pavian” means “baboon” in German.
• When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since most people can’t read.
• Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.
• Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”
• Jolly Green Giant translated into Arabic means “Intimidating Green Ogre.”
• In Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”
• Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.
• Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave,” in Chinese.
• The American Dairy Association was so successful with its “Got Milk?” campaign, that it was decided to extend the ads to Mexico. Unfortunately, the Spanish translation was “Are you lactating?”
• When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. Instead, 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.”
What’s the marketing lesson in all of this? If you are going to advertise overseas or in places that are multi-cultural PLEASE do research on the language… and most importantly, make sure you are saying what you WANT to say.