5 Marketing Translation Mistakes

5 Marketing Translation Mistakes


Global business is tough to manage. One part that needs careful consideration is the localisation of marketing, promotional, and brand-related content. This is because different regions use different languages, and have different cultural references and social conventions.

This ensures that advertising copy that may have been a success in one country may be a disaster in another. Here are 5 examples of promotional activities that were compromised by a severe error in translation and localisation:

Pepsi will bring your ancestors back to life

Several high-profile Western companies have had difficulties when translating their marketing copy into Chinese. Pepsi made this mistake when they unwittingly translated their “come alive with the Pepsi generation” slogan as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.

That is certainly a bold promise.

Parker Pens are not likely to make you pregnant

When Parker Pen first started to market their ballpoint pen to the Mexican market, they wanted to tell their new audience that their pens “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”.

However, the company thought that the Spanish for “embarrass” was “embarzar”, which actually means to impregnate.

So, Parker Pen’s translated marketing copy actually read “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.” Well, that’s quite reassuring.

RELATED: Why Brands Are Still Not Getting Localisation Right


Sharwoods hit a bum note

In 2003, UK food manufacturer Sharwoods launched their latest curry sauce that was said to be “deliciously rich”. The new product was entitled “Bundh”, with the name supposedly “inspired by a traditional northern Indian ‘closed pot’ method of cooking”.

Sharwoods were so confident in their latest product, that they even backed it with a £6 million television advertising campaign.

However, following the launch, Sharwoods received several calls from Punjabi speakers telling them that “Bundh” sounded like the Punjabi word for “arse”. Marketing translation mistakes like this will most certainly ensure you receive a negative response from curry lovers.

Honda’s Nordic embarrassment

In 2001, Honda introduced their new car, the “Fitta”. Yet, if the company had taken the time to understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of their new market, they would have noticed that “Fitta” was an old, crass term that referred to the female genitals in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish.

Consequently, the car was renamed the “Honda Jazz”.

Coca-Cola and a sticky situation

When Coca-Cola first translated their name into Chinese, it literally translated to “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on your dialect.

In a desperate effort to change their Chinese name, Coke researched 40,000 Chinese characters to find the phonetic equivalent, “kekoukele”, meaning “happiness in the mouth” in Chinese. This instance shows that even the smallest translation error can dramatically affect the final message.

If you want your brand to remain competitive in local markets, it’s essential that your marketing team has a native speaking employee to avoid common marketing translation mistakes.

Additionally, partnering with a reputable language service provider, with linguists who are able to understand local nuances and idioms, can provide you with a through cultural sensitivity strategy to ensure your product or service is well received by your international customers – while remaining competitive in the local target market.

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