Blog Translation

Advertising translations gone wrong

Annie Kenny

September 16th, 2020

When you’re aiming a product or campaign at an international market, it’s important to make sure the text is localised to your consumers. There have been many instances in which brands have caused offence or lost consumers due to bad translations.

Here are some of the worst advertising translation fails:

Pepsi

When Pepsi launched their new slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” in China, it was met with confusion from the Chinese people, as the translation read ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’. It couldn’t have happened in a worse market, given the importance of ancestry in Chinese culture.

Schweppes  

The well-known mixer brand faced issues when their Tonic Water was wrongly translated in Italian to ‘Toilet Water’ – Gin and Toilet Water? Not so appealing.

Mercedes-Benz

When Mercedes decided to enter the market in China in 2009, the first translation of their name was “Bensi”- which means ‘rush to die’ in Chinese. Needless to say this wasn’t a popular concept to associate with a car, so they quickly changed the name to “Benchi” – which has a much more appropriate meaning of ‘to run quickly as if flying’.

Clairol

The American haircare company, who brought out a new hair curling iron named the “Mist Stick”. The product was launched internationally but failed to take off in Germany – where ‘Mist’ is slang for ‘manure’. 

Orange

During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its advertising in Northern Ireland. Their famous tagline "The future's bright … the future's Orange." was ignorant of its cultural implications - in the North the term ‘Orange’ suggests the Orange Order, a symbol of Protestant union in Ireland. Given that the Troubles were still ongoing at this point, the implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, didn't sit well with the Catholic Irish population.

Ford

Vehicle manufacturer, Ford released an ad campaign that said "Every car has a high-quality body" (referring to the outer covering of the car) which unfortunately translated in Belgian to ‘every car has a high-quality corpse’. Probably not a feature you’d want in your new car!

Whilst these errors may often result from poorly carried out translations, they also come from a lack of understanding of the culture. For example, the tagline for Orange will have been publicised in a number of English speaking markets – but without the consideration of semantics for different audiences, can still cause offence.

Although machine translation (MT) is becoming more effective, it is still unable to pick up on these kinds of mistakes. This is why it is key to have native-speaking translators who are able to localise your text and avoid any embarrassing faux-pas. 

See here for more information on language translations and the services we offer.



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