Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing
corporations. It shouldn't be that hard, yet even the big
multi-nationals run into trouble because of language and
cultural differences. For example...
- The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as
Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not
discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that
the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse
stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then
researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close
phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely
translated as "happiness in the mouth."
In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive
with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring
your ancestors back from the dead."
Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-
lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."
The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling
Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When
smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems
to be free and empty."
When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South
America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it
won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling
any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the
Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped.
The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for
"tiny male genitals". Ford pried all the nameplates off and
substituted Corcel, which means horse.
When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its
ads were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and
embarrass you." However, the company's mistakenly
thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass.
Instead the ads said that "It wont leak in your pocket and
make you pregnant."
An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the
Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of
the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts
proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."
Chicken-man Frank Perdue's slogan, "It takes a tough man
to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in another
Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds
appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that
explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."
Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French
Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in
slang, means "big breasts." In this case, however, the name
problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales.
Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the
name of a notorious porno mag.
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated
the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.
Japan's second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it
entered English-speaking markets and began receiving
requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the
owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.
In an effort to boost orange juice sales in predominantly
continental breakfast eating England, a campaign was
devised to extol the drink's eye-opening, pick-me-up
qualities. Hence, slogan, "Orange juice. It gets your pecker
By the way, these are all true accounts...