Companies that market their brands globally strive to keep a singular identity with their marketing campaigns and brand messages. In response to globalisation, many companies assume as the trade barriers begin to dissolve alongside the wake of global communication technologies, the potential in expanding to new markets now appeal and can happen faster and more effectively than ever before.
With this, many companies tend to confuse globalisation with homogenisation, assuming that they can replicate their current business model in another region without professional translation services, producing the same success for their products. By simple means of setting up a website or ad campaign in the relevant language with a similar distribution network, they forget that there is more than just a difference of language, currency and gross domestic product in a country. The cultural differences can greatly affect the chances of success for a brand – here are some examples of the ‘powerful’ words that represent and strengthens the brand itself successfully when expressed in its original tongue, but lost when translated to another language without caution.
– Car names have had the most trouble. The word ‘Nova’ in Spanish meant ‘it doesn’t go’, and as General Motors marketed their Chevy Novas in Latin America, they were not amused when they eventually found out why it didn’t quite appeal to the market as they had hoped. Similarly, Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport Utility had the same problem, where in Spanish, ‘Pajero’ translated to ‘Masturbator’.
– Ford’s ‘Pinto’ turned out to be Ford’s ‘Small Penis’ – a slang word belonging to the Brazilian Portuguese.
– Toyota’s ‘Fiera’ also translated poorly in Puerto Rico, where ‘fiera’ basically referred to ‘ugly old woman’.
– American Airlines wanted to advertise the luxurious aspect of flying business class to their Mexican customers with the slogan ‘Fly in Leather’ (‘Vuelo en Cuero’ in Spanish), focusing on promoting their leather seats. The Spanish dictionary forgot to let them know that ‘en cuero’ was a slang term for ‘in the nude’.
– Parker Pens intended their ads to read ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ to their Mexican consumers. Confusing the word ‘embarrass’ with ‘embrazar’ in Spanish (meaning ‘to impregnate’), the Mexicans were alarmed to know that should the pens leak, they would impregnate you.
– Again, Coors beer had the same kind of trouble with translation. With its ‘Turn It Loose’ slogan, it read ‘You Will Suffer From Diarrhoea’ in Spanish.
– US food brand Frank Perdue’s Chicken campaign created confusion yet again in Spain with their strap line ‘It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken’, which read ‘It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate’.
– Rolls Royce and Clairol had no idea that the word ‘mist’ was a slang term for ‘manure’ for the Germans. Was it any surprise that they didn’t find Rolls Royce’s ‘Silver Animal Droppings’ car as romantic as the English did (with ‘Silver Mist’), and that their women stayed well away from Clairol’s hair curling iron, the ‘Mist Stick’?
– Also in Germany, ‘V’ is pronounced as ‘F’. ‘Vicks’ (famous for their vapour rub) there sounded like the German equivalent for the ‘f’ word.
– Electrolux (a Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer) stunned the American market with its translated slogan ‘Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux’.
– In Italy, the promotional campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water failed as it was translated to ‘Schweppes Toilet Water’. After realising the importance of having a good, native interpreter to know the translation’s effects on the product and its audience, their subsequent campaigns had better cultural awareness, appeal and results.
– Kentucky Fried Chicken’s ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ slogan was used worldwide to emphasise on its tastiness. Unfortunately when they tried to make it in Hong Kong, it came out as ‘eat your fingers off’.
– Pepsi in Taiwan was unaware that they said ‘Pepsi Will Bring Your Ancestors Back From The Dead’ in Chinese, a translation of their global slogan ‘Come Alive With The Pepsi Generation’.
– Last but not least, Gerber, the baby food manufacturer, started to sell its products in Africa, using the same packaging as for Western markets that includes a picture of a baby boy on the label. Not realising until later that most Africans couldn’t read English and that other Western companies generally put pictures on the label to represent what was inside, they then understood why they were encountering low sales.