Advertising campaigns ruined due to a bad translation

When you work as a translator, one of the best guilty pleasures is to come across an inaccurate translation on TV, the web or in advertising campaigns. In the latter, they are often not only wrong, but also very funny.

When your field is marketing however, it may not be very pleasant to learn that your work has been ruined. Oftentimes, these blunders occur in millionaire advertising campaigns and they may result in losses or even damage to the company trademark.

Here are 5 examples of advertising blunders that could have been avoided if only a good professional translator had been hired.

 

  1. AMERICAN AIRLINES

When the popular American airline equipped its aircraft with leather seats, they launched a campaign with the slogan “Fly in leather”. After the success of this campaign in the USA, they tried their luck in Mexico with the same slogan, translated into Spanish: “Vuela en cueros”. The literal translation of the slogan ended up inviting customers to fly naked in their planes.

 

  1. ELECTROLUX

In this case, the Scandinavian company wanted to show off. “Don’t even think about the competition, people. If it’s about absorbing dirt, then we are the best: our vacuum cleaners are the most powerful”. So far, so good, isn’t it? Unfortunately, they chose a bad slogan to describe the concept in the USA: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. Oh, the irony…

 

  1. KFC

Once again, we are facing a very successful slogan in its home country: “It’s finger licking good”. Its translation had even worked in neighbor countries, such as Mexico (“Para chuparse los dedos“). But you can never lower your guard!!! The slogan was too literal in China. Eastern countries don’t use the same idioms and expressions as we do in the West. So, the Chinese didn’t have a clue about why a restaurant chain wanted them to “eat their fingers“… isn’t there any chicken left?

 

  1. PARKER PEN

Parker Pen was determined to end one of the most common problems when launching this campaign: It Won’t Leak In Your Pocket And Embarrass You. You know, everyday problems. But let’s just say, it was a little bit more promising in Spanish. The word “embarrass” is a very well-known “false friend”; it’s very similar to another word in Spanish, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. The translator missed this fact and Parker Pen ended up promising every Spanish speaker that their pens wouldn’t get them pregnant. “It won’t leak in your pocket and get you pregnant”. At last! What a relief!

 

  1. CLAIROL

Clairol is a hair products producer. One of these products is the protagonist of this translation blunder: the curling iron “Mist Stick”. Nobody could explain why this product, so popular in other countries, was not well received by its German consumers. Well, Germans knew why. Unfortunately, the word “Mist”, so inspiring and beautiful in English, means “shit” in German. It is pretty clear why Germans preferred the competition this time.

 

  1. ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS AND CARS

We could spend all day talking about names of cars that turned out to be a fiasco. The most recent one, maybe, is the Hyundai Kona, named after a district on the Big Island of Hawaii. However, in Galician and Portuguese it sounds like “cona“, which means vagina. But this is not the first time something like this has happened. The Ford Pinto means penis in Portuguese. Then there is the Honda Fitta that has the same name as the female genital organs, although this time in Swedish (the Portuguese were already served).

Sometimes, these names are adapted, like Mitsubishi Pajero (wanker, in Spanish), which was marketed in Spain as the Mitsubishi Montero. In others, the adaptation is impossible. The Japanese producer Mazda never launched its model Mazda Laputa in Spain, because Laputa sounds like “the whore”. Although they did use it in the US, since Laputa in English only recalls the imaginary island from The Gulliver’s Travels. The result: almost 60 million Spanish speakers crack a smile every day when they cross one of these models.

 

We can come to a very simple conclusion: when it comes to advertising campaigns, never underestimate the importance of having a good translator on your staff. If your product is going to be marketed around the world, you should already know that four eyes see more than two and they could just save your day.

Image source: The New York Times

About Antonio Leal Fernández

Graduate degree in Translation and Interpretation from Universidade de Vigo (2013). Translator and proofreader in the German and English to Spanish combinations. He has been working for englishpanish since November 2017.

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