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Lost in translation: 15 advertising slogans that didn't translate well

Beth  Nunnington, Senior Account Manager

The author

Beth Nunnington

Senior Account Manager

International markets are always tough to break into, but especially so when your slogan is so horrifically translated that it takes on a completely different meaning altogether.

So for your delectation, we’ve compiled our favourite 15 mis-translations of popular product slogans – ask yourselves if you'd still buy the product had they kept that message?

Upon creating this article, I’ve been unable to confirm the accuracy of all the following stories, but, whether they’re true or just urban legends, they’re too funny to not share.

15. KFC

We’re all familiar with KFC’s slogan of ‘It’s finger-lickin’ good!’, but when the fast food chain attempted to break into Beijing the unfortunate slogan took a strange transformation...

 

14. Coca Cola

Another case of a big brand trying to break the Chinese market ended in hilarious bafflement, as Coca-Cola, which rendered in Chinese becomes ‘Ke-kou-ke-la’ actually translates to…

 

13. American Dairy Association

In 1993, the American Dairy Association created a hugely popular slogan of ‘Got Milk?’ to encourage the drinking of cow’s milk. Unfortunately, in Mexico, this translated to ‘Are you Lactating?

12. Ford

Ford launched the ‘Pinto’ in 1971, experiencing a good level of popularity, except in Brazil. Upon investigation of this, the company discovered ‘pinto’ is slang for ‘tiny male genitals’ in Brazil. They quickly replaced nameplates and branding with the updated name ‘Corcel’, which translates to ‘horse’. Really subtle, guys.

11. Parker

Back to Mexico again, but this time with Parker pens who ran with the incredibly-dull slogan of ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’, which when translated became ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’...

…which really makes you wonder what they’re putting in that ink.

10. Sharwoods

When our very own Sharwoods launched their ‘Deliciously Rich’ range of sauces in 2003, based on a traditional Northern Indian style of cooking, they adopted the name of ‘Bundh’ to promote them. The £6m campaign was heavily promoted with television ads, but what promoters had failed to notice was that "bundh" in Punjabi has a much less appetising meaning, literally meaning ‘arse’. 

 

9. Green Giant

Enormous peddler of frozen and tinned vegetables, the Jolly Green Giant is supposed to be seen as a figure of kindness and happiness… Except in Arabic, where he translates to ‘Intimidating Green Ogre’. Frankly, I’d be more than happy to buy vegetables from a brand with that mascot. 

8. Pepsi

Battling against the behemoth of Coca-Cola is a tough task for any company, so in the 1960s Pepsi took an invigorating slogan of ‘Come Alive! You’re In The Pepsi Generation!’. The drink had quickly addressed the younger generation and started to be seen as the cool and hip alternative to Coca-Cola, except in China where it translated to the timeless slogan… 

‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From The Dead’ 

7. Honda

The Honda Jazz (‘Fit’ in Japan, China and the Americas) is a relatively popular vehicle currently on the market, but only thanks to a quick re-brand. Originally, this was released as the ‘Fitta’ but this proved problematic when some noted that in several Nordic languages this was a crass slang term for the female genitalia.

6. Purdue Chicken

Whilst an unknown brand in the UK, Purdue Chicken took the slightly bizarre slogan of ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’. As if this wasn’t odd enough, when translated for a Mexican audience, it became ‘It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate’. 

5. Braniff Airlines

Whilst leather-seated luxury sounds like the perfect way to fly, Braniff Airlines may have slightly overlooked the translation of their slogan, ‘Fly in leather’, which, translated into Spanish becomes ‘en cuero’. Unfortunately, ‘en cueros’ is pronounced the same, and in fact means ‘fly naked’. 

4. Mitsubishi 

The Mitsubishi Pajero was forced to change it’s name in Spain to the ‘Montero’, as Pajero translated into Spanish means ‘wanker’. 

3. Sega

Game console and software developer, Sega, have enjoyed and endured financial successes and hardships, but it’s likely that they were unaware of the meaning of ‘Sega’ in Italy. Well, at least they gave teenage boys the chance to play with themselves, because that’s exactly what it translates to.

2. Nokia 

Wow, you really have to wonder how this happened. In 2011, renowned mobile phone manufacturers, Nokia, released the ‘Lumia’ smartphone to great acclaim, particularly when going up against the behemoths of Samsung and Apple. However, they neglected to check what ‘Lumia’ means in Spanish… turns out it means ‘prostitute’. 

1. Panasonic 

It seems unbelievable to think of, but way back in the mid-90s, Japanese company Panasonic were developing touch-screen technology. Naturally, they sought out an effective marketing strategy and attached themselves to a mascot, Woody Woodpecker, who apparently was huge in Japan at the time. 

To really push this campaign, they even invented a new slogan of ‘Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker’. I’ll let that sink in for a while. 

It was only when an American employee informed them of the connotations that they quickly postponed the launch and opted for the safe tagline of ‘Woody Touch Screen’. 

* And for a bit of fun, we put our tagline of ‘telling famous stories and building epic relationships’ into badtranslator.com, and would like to unveil our new slogan:

‘Narrating epic affairs’.