Ten marketing translation mistakes that caused problems

The internet has made it easier to reach an international audience, but for a business to succeed overseas, it must appeal to the target country. Without the proper considerations, your marketing campaign can have disastrous outcomes. Making sure you’re sending out the correct message is vital.


A business woman who is frustrated

Here is a list of 10 marketing translation mistakes which caused problems to well-known companies.


1. HSBC - Do nothing

In 2009, HSBC’s slogan “Assume Nothing” was mistakenly translated into “Do Nothing” in several countries. The company had to rebrand its entire global private banking operation, which costed $10 million. “Do nothing” is definitely not the message you want to be sending out to your customers.


2. KFC - Eat your fingers

When entering China in the 80’s, KFC translated their famous slogan “Finger-licking good” into “Eat your fingers”. Luckily the error was noticed very early on and the mistake was corrected before it could cause a lot of damage to the company.


3. Mercedes - Rush to die

Like KFC, Mercedes had problems with Chinese translation. The first Chinese translation of the name Mercedes-Benz was “Bensi”. The name was quickly changed when the company was told that the word Bensi means “rush to die”.


4. Parker Pen - It won't leak in your pocket and impregnate you

Parker Pen made the mistake of assuming that the Spanish word “embarazar” and the very similarly written English word “embarrass” had the same meaning. Embarazar actually means “to impregnate”. Their slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” became “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you”.


5. American Airlines - Fly Naked

To advertise their leather seats, Braniff Airlines used the slogan “Fly in Leather”. When translated into Spanish for their Mexican customers, the slogan became “Fly Naked”. This slogan caught a lot of attention, but the message sent out was very different from what the airline had in mind.


6. Coors - Suffer from Diarrhea

American beer brand, Coors, launched its campaign brand in Spain with their slogan “Turn it Loose”. The slogan was translated to “Suffer from Diarrhea”. No need to explain why this translation caused problems.


7. Electrolux - In slang, Americans thought that Electrolux sucks

Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the tagline “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” for an ad campaign. Even though the term is grammatically correct, this didn’t really work out well in the United States. In English slang, when you say something sucks, it means that something is bad or that it is something you dislike.


8. Pepsi - Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead

A Pepsi marketing campaign with slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” went completely wrong in China when it was translated to “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. This is very bad marketing, especially since ancestor worship is an important part of Chinese culture.


9. Ford - Every car has a high-quality corpse

Ford wanted to promote their car’s excellent manufacturing with the slogan “Every car has a high-quality body”. But when entering the Belgian market, they failed to localize their ad campaign. Of course, in English we know that the “body” in the slogan refers to the body of the car. When translated into Dutch, their slogan became “Every car has a high-quality corpse”.


10. Pampers - Japanese parents had no idea why a stork was delivering a baby

When Proctor & Gamble first introduced the diapers brand Pampers to Japan, the packaging had an image of a stork delivering a baby. This is a symbol which is commonly used in the United States, but Japanese parents couldn’t quite relate to it. After doing some research, the company found out that in Japan, babies are brought to parents in giant floating peaches in the river.


Before taking your brand global, it is essential to identify who your target market is, take its linguistic, cultural, political and legal differences into consideration and modify your advertising accordingly. You must make sure that the people on your team know all these differences well. If not, your message might upset customers rather than entice them.


We are the people you need on your team. All our translations are made by native translators who have extensive knowledge of the local culture and the political and legal aspects of the target country. Go ahead and get in touch with us to make sure you don't make any marketing translation mistakes which can cause damage to your product or even your business!