Lost in Translation
Before Jeremy Lin sustained a potential season-ending injury last month, Coca-Cola was preparing to take advantage of the New York Knick point guard's popularity to speak directly to Chinese consumers.
The longtime Madison Square Garden advertiser planned this month to install courtside ads written in Mandarin, the language of Lin's family, in an effort to connect with Chinese fans.
The postponement of the campaign will give Coke executives a chance to double-check their use of language and spelling and make sure their message is not being lost in translation, as so often has happened to other businesses with well-intentioned plans to build an overseas consumer base.
The list of well-known companies committing translation blunders already includes:
An effort by the U.S. computer company to demonstrate its devotion to customers backfired when it tried to take its message across the Pond in the 1970s. Wang Computer's motto, "Wang Cares," was immediately laughed at by Brits for what it sounded like when spoken aloud: "wankers," a derogatory term in England. Not wanting to be associated with the slang, the company's U.K. retailers refused to use the slogan.
Chicken mogul Frank Perdue's famous slogan, "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken," didn't have the same appeal for consumers south of the border. That because, when translated in Spanish for a billboard in Mexico, the slogan came out as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate." That didn't relay quite the tough-guy image Perdue had been gunning for.
Not all cartoon characters have the same appeal overseas that they do in the states. Mitsubishi learned that the hard way in the mid-1990s, when it planned to use Woody Woodpecker to promote its new personal computer.
According to the EE Times, the company halted production the day before the campaign was set to launch, after realizing that when translated to Japanese, its ads revolved around the slogan "Tough Woody – the Internet Pecker."
Even made-up words can have an unintended meaning in another language.
The name Kraft Foods invented for its new snack spinoff company, Mondelez International, has come under scrutiny for what "Mondelez" sounds like in Russian.
While in a press release Kraft says the newly coined word "Mondelez" (to be pronounced "mohn-da-leez") was created to evoke the idea of "delicious world," it sounds like the Russian slang for an oral sex act, according to Crain's Chicago Business.
Kraft has defended its proposed selection. "We did extensive due diligence in testing the name," Kraft spokesman John Simley told Crain's. "That included two rounds of focus groups in 28 languages, including Russian. We determined misinterpretations in any of the languages to be low-risk."
Kraft shareholders are expected to vote on the name at their annual meeting next month.
When Clairol presented its new curling iron in Germany, it quickly realized the need for a bit more research.
Despite being popular in the United States, Clairol's Mist Stick curling iron was a dud in Germany, and it wasn't until the hair products company translated "mist" into German that executives figured out why.
"Mist" means "manure," and few German women were looking for a manure stick for their long locks.
Clairol wasn't alone in that problem; Rolls-Royce was forced to change the name of its Silver Mist to Silver Shadow before unveiling the car to Germans, and liquor producer Irish Mist also had difficulty breaking in to the German market.
One of the earliest translation blunders belongs to the Parker Pen company for its 1935 introduction of the fountain pen.
In the U.S., the successful advertising campaign centered on the slogan "Avoid embarrassment, use Parker Pens."
When debuting the pen in Latin America, however, the company modified the slogan to "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you."
The campaign didn't catch on so well, since the Spanish word that the company used, embarazar, does not mean "to embarrass" but rather "to impregnate," leaving some with the impression that the new fountain pen wouldn't "leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
American businesses aren't the only ones to suffer from translation blunders, as furniture giant IKEA found out in 2005.
The Swedish company, known for having products with unique monikers, decided to give a newly designed children's mobile workbench the name "Fartfull."
While the word means "speedy" in Swedish, American parents weren't so quick to buy the desk for their kids.
In the end, IKEA was forced to pull the item from its collection.