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Some Global Marketing Gaffes: Brand U Study Guide

There are many, many cases when marketing departments of very large companies have failed to test product names and slogans in foreign markets. Below are some of the "classics".

Coca-Cola The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as

       Pronounced: Ke-ke-ken-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,

       Pronounced:  ko-kou-ko-le,

which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."

Pepsi Things weren't much easier for Coke's arch-rival Pepsi. When they entered the Chinese market a few years ago, the translation of their slogan "Pepsi Brings you Back to Life" was a little more literal than they intended. In Chinese, the slogan meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".
KFC When Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market, to their horror they discovered that their slogan "finger lickin' good" came out as "Eat your fingers off."
Ford Ford's Comet, was called "Caliente" in Mexico. "Caliente" literally means "hot" (as in temperature), but colloquially it is also used for either "horny" or "prostitute".

Ford introduced the Pinto in Brazil. After watching sales go nowhere, the company learned that "Pinto" is Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals." Ford pried the nameplates off all of the cars and substituted them with "Corcel" which means horse.

Ford's Fiera doesn't do well either, since "fiera" means "ugly old woman" and Ford's Cortina translated as "jalopy".

Milk The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"
Perdue Chicken 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."
Dangerous Pens 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 mistakenly thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass. Instead the ads said "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
Electrolux Electrolux, a Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer, used this ad in the U.S.: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
Clairol A hair products company, Clairol, introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that mist is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the manure stick.
Schweppes In Italy, a campaign for "Schweppes Tonic Water" translated the name into the much less thirst quenching "Schweppes Toilet Water."


"All people are not necessarily led by the same evidence to the same conclusions. It frequently turns out that assumptions held in one country are not matched in another."

from Mindsets, by Glen Fisher
Intercultural Press, 1988

Branding Study Guides
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  • Wish They All Could be
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  • Eye on the Internet
  • Favorite Do's and Don'ts
  • Web Site Spelling Bee
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  • Context and Content
  • Global Marketing Gaffes
  • Seven Rules of Networking
  • Just for Fun
  • The Brandawacky
  • 12 Steps to Brand Recovery

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