These days marketing is everywhere, it’s unavoidable, and we are being manipulated by subliminal tricks and product placements on a daily basis. But this growing epidemic is being met with disdain – which is why it’s so satisfying to find some examples where marketing has backfired on the marketers themselves!
As demonstrated in our recent blog on how easy it is for foreign words and phrases to get lost in translation, the issue applies to marketing campaigns that don’t have the same intended meaning in other countries – often with humorous consequences. Here are a few censored examples:
Parker Pens Need A Pregnant Pause?
One of the earliest reported translation errors belongs to the innocent Parker Pen. In 1935, its U.S. ad campaign was simply "Avoid embarrassment, use Parker Pens", which was tweaked slightly for the South American debut to "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". Unfortunately, the company mistakenly used the spanish word "embarazar" to mean embarrass, but it actually meant to impregnate, so this was literally translated as "It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant".
Still in South America, General Motors couldn’t work out why their recently launched Chevy Nova wasn’t selling, until they realised that "no va" means "it won't go"!
Similarly, Ford had issues selling the Pinto in Brazil, until they found out that the word Pinto was slang for "tiny male genitals".
A Mist Opportunity!
The English word “mist” is translated as “manure” in German, which was something Clairol overlooked when they introduced their ‘Mist Stick Curling Iron’ product to Deutschland. Similarly, Rolls Royce quickly rebranded the Silver Mist to the Silver Shadow, and Irish Mist had to rethink how to promote their whiskey liqueur.
The owners of Japanese tourist agency, Kinki Nippon Tourist Company, quickly changed its name in English speaking countries when they started getting unsolicited requests for salacious experiences!
Colgate got more attention than they wanted when they introduced a toothpaste to France called Cue, the name of a popular porn magazine.
But Hunt-Wesson didn’t mind when sales weren’t affected after introducing their Big John products to French Canada as Gros Jos – slang for "big breasts."
Swedish furniture giant IKEA had a ‘yikes’ moment when they failed to corner the children’s mobile workbench market with the product name “Fartfull”, which means “speedy” in Sweden, but has quite a different meaning in English.
When Good Campaigns Go Really Bad!
The popular Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" instilled fear into the Taiwanese when it was translated as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead", Schweppes weren’t best pleased when their tonic water was translated as toilet water for an Italian campaign, and KFC bit off more than they could chew when their slogan "finger-lickin' good" read as "eat your fingers off" in Chinese.
So, there we have it, a bit of fun at the marketers’ expense, and I bet they were expensive blunders too! Do you have any stories of marketing fails?