Lost in translation: When big brands don’t travel well

Coca Cola

When Coca Cola was first sold in China in 1927, legend has it that the direct translation of the soft drink was “bite the wax tadpole”. Coca Cola needed to find the correct Chinese characters to get the right phonetic sound for the four syllables – not an easy task in a language of 40,000 symbols. Apparently there are roughly 200 that create a similar sound – but when you put them all together, they can say something else entirely! According to Coca Cola, it was the shopkeepers making their own signs who made this less than appetising offer, rather than the company itself.

Chevrolet Nova

This one seems to be more myth than fact, but it’s a fun story that highlights the perils of international marketing. The Chevrolet Nova was apparently launched in Spanish speaking Latin American countries under the same name. In English, “Nova” relates to the stars. In Spanish it means the same thing, but if you split the word in two, “no va” literally means “not going” – a poor quality for a car!

Colgate Cue

With the backing of the American Dental Association, in the 1960s Colgate launched their new toothpaste, Cue, into the French market. What Colgate hadn’t realised was that Cue was also the name of a notorious pornographic magazine…

Coors beer

Possibly another story more fiction than fact – but apparently Coors beer translated their “Turn it loose” slogan into “suéltalo con Coors” for their Spanish markets – literally meaning “let it go loose with Coors”, or “suffer from diarrhoea” in more colloquial terms.

Nike

It’s not just words that can cause offence internationally – in 1997 Nike launched their “flaming air” logo to support the Nike Air trainers. The image though, looked rather similar to the Arabic form of God’s name, Allah – causing upset to Muslims around the world, and huge embarrassment to Nike.

Nike flaming air logo | Bad Marketing blog
Image courtesy of http://hornsbybrandesign.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/things-that-make-you-say-hmm.html
Moving forward
  • What’s the moral of this Bad Marketing story for you?
  • What should they have done differently?
  • What will you do differently in future?

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Chris Rogers

I curate stories of #badmarketing so marketing professionals and business owners like you can learn from the mistakes of others - and produce better marketing that’s right first time. Bad Marketing also aims to be essential reading for marketers, academics & students – and anyone interested in the challenges of marketing.

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