For U.S. businesses to succeed overseas, they have to appeal to their international consumer base. However, if not done correctly, marketing to foreign customers can have disastrous outcomes.
Many U.S. businesses have learned the hard way that an ad or marketing campaign that worked stateside may not have the same charm when translated into a foreign language. Here are 10 of the funniest marketing translation blunders.
HSBC Bank was forced to rebrand its entire global private banking operations after bringing a U.S. campaign overseas. In 2009, the worldwide bank spent millions of dollars to scrap its 5-year-old "Assume Nothing" campaign. Problems arose when the message was brought overseas, where it was translated in many countries as "Do Nothing." In the end, the bank spent $10 million to change its tagline to "The world's private bank," which has a much more friendly translation.
While most businesses try to make a good impression while expanding into a foreign country, fried-chicken franchise KFC got off on the wrong foot when it opened in China in the late 1980s. When the company opened its doors in Beijing, the restaurant had accidentally translated its infamous slogan "Finger-lickin' good" to a not-so-appetizing phrase: "Eat your fingers off." In the end, however, the blunder didn't end up hurting KFC too badly: It's theNo. 1 quick-service restaurant brand in China today, with more than 4,400 restaurants in more than 850 cities.
American beer maker Coors discovered that slang doesn't always translate well. When bringing its cool "Turn It Loose" campaign to Spain, it appears executives forgot to ensure the translation would resonate with consumers. When translated into Spanish, the tagline used an expression that's commonly interpreted as "Suffer from diarrhea." While the campaign did make its mark on Spanish shoppers, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Not all translation blunders have been limited to U.S.-based companies. Swedish vacuum maker Electrolux got a quick lesson in English slang when it introduced its products in the states. Thinking it was highlighting its vacuum's high power, the Scandinavian company's ad campaign centered on the tagline "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." While the slogan might have been grammatically correct, it never really took off with U.S. shoppers.
Auto giant Ford found that in Belgium, enticing customers with a dead body in every car isn't the best way to make a sale. Hoping to highlight the cars' excellent manufacturing, Ford launched an ad campaign in the European country that execs thought said "Every car has a high-quality body." However, when translated, the slogan read, "Every car has a high-quality corpse" — far from the image they were hoping to invoke.
Braniff Airlines got in trouble in 1987 when it started hyping its new leather seats south of the border with the same campaign being used in the U.S.: "Fly in Leather." While the Spanish translation, "Vuela en Cuero," was appropriate throughout much of Latin America, it had different connotations in Mexico, where the expression also means "Fly naked." The promotion may have appealed to some flyers, but it was far from the message the airline was intending to send.
It isn't always the messaging that gets marketers in trouble in international locations. Sometimes, it's the product name that gets lost in translation. When car manufacturer American Motors launched its new midsize car — the Matador — in the early 1970s in Puerto Rico, it quickly realized the name didn't have the intended meaning of courage and strength. In Spanish, matador is translated to "killer," which, in a place filled with hazardous roads, didn't instill a great deal of confidence in the drivers.
Sometimes, companies run into problems overseas not just for what they say, but how they say it. When Proctor & Gamble started selling its Pampers diapers in Japan, it used an image of a stork delivering a baby on the packaging. While the advertising may have worked in the U.S., it never caught on with Japanese parents. After some research, the company figured out that customers were concerned and confused by the image of a stork on the packaging, since the stories of storks bringing babies to parents isn't a part of Japanese folklore. There, the story goes that giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents.