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Translation Bloopers in Ads That Are Hard to Forget.


4 min read

Written by


Argos Multilingual

Published on

31 Jul 2019

Ever been in a situation where you make a joke, and no one laughs? So, imagine what it’s like when big corporations create an ad and aim at encouraging thousands of people with a slogan or picture, but instead, they end up being miserably humiliated by a blooper, because of a bad translation or poor cultural understanding.

The importance of content in ads is obvious, but when it comes to the translation of slogans displayed for audiences all over the world, it must be completely flawless. Even the smallest mistake can cost companies a lot of money and can even damage their brand image and reputation.

Let’s start with one of the most popular examples. The launch of the first KFC restaurant in China in the 90’s, which didn’t pan out as planned. The catchy slogan – ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ was unintentionally translated into Chinese as ‘Eat your fingers off’. Not very appetizing, right? Luckily, it didn’t harm the company’s reputation too much as KFC wasn’t that popular at the time, but till today it still leaves a sour taste.

Another example is from the beverage manufacturer, Pepsi. A famous ad ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ changed into a bad joke. Having launched the ad into the Chinese market, Pepsi apparently wanted to ‘Bring Your Ancestors Back from the Grave’. No one had thought to double check whether the translation was culturally appropriate for the Chinese market.

German consumers clearly rejected buying a curling iron named by the manufacturers as ‘Manure Stick’. Yes, the next American ad campaign which missed the fact that the English name “Mist Stick” was translated incorrectly into other foreign languages.

Nike, in turn, didn’t pay attention to cultural signs at all. Something, which was supposed to resemble fire on shoes, changed into the Arabic word for Allah. Muslims felt completely insulted by the lack of thorough attention before launching the campaign, and Nike had to immediately recall all sales worldwide, even though it was an unintentional blooper.

Likewise, Proctor & Gamble experienced a big blooper as well. At first, their ad’s campaign worked perfectly in the U.S, but once they entered the Japanese market, selling diapers with an image of a stork delivering baby, something clearly went wrong. Here we have a clear example of why it is important to not just translate correctly, but also to understand the culture of your target market. If someone had familiarized themselves with the Japanese culture, they would have known that babies come from giant floating peaches. This part of neglect colored the whole failure of the ad and caused great confusion amongst Japanese parents.

Correct translations, relevant content, and cultural understanding all impact on the success of international ad campaigns. Before spreading ads to other cultures and countries, make sure you look into transcreation, so that the core message transcends across cultures and target markets, but in a language they understand.

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