Advertising Lost in Translation

Many time we don’t realize that we live in a world of globalized markets where products are sold all around the world. In some ways this is good for business. Yet, in other ways, it gets really hard to advertise, especially with the certain cultures and languages are involved, often with rather funny and disturbing results. An advertisement in one country will not always have the same effect in the other. And sometimes some slogans may be a country’s equivalent to something offensive or negative and won’t waste the time. So here’s a list of advertising gone lost in translation. (Viewer discretion is advised and it might not be safe for work.)

1. Any time there’s an advertisement with a before and after picture going left to right in the Middle East. Middle Easterners usually read from right to left so presenting an ad like this is telling them your product sucks or cause what it’s supposed to alleviate. Thus, it’s like diet pills and weight loss plans make you fat, medicine makes you sick, and cleaning products make everything dirty to someone in Saudi Arabia.

2. The origin of Exxon was a move to prevent this during a planned consolidation of the Enco and Esso brands of Standard Oil of New Jersey. It was originally going to be Enco until it was learned “enco” means “stalled car” in Japanese.

3. Any product containing the word “mist” and sold in Germany. In that country, it means manure. Interestingly, the word “mist” actually comes from the Old German word originally referring to the steam rising from a fresh pile of dung. Also, Clariol’s Mist Stick bears some similarity to the German “mistuck” meaning “bitch” or “piece of manure.”

4. The Japanese have a popular milky soft drink named Calpis (sounds similar to “cow piss”) and energy drinks named Pocari Sweat and its spin-off Pet Sweat.

5. The case with a port called Cockburn’s Dry Tang. Of course, this may have funny implications already in English. Yet, in Sweden “tang” is a term used for seaweed and as an obscure term for vagina. Also, didn’t help matters when it was changed to “Cockburn’s Dry Cock.” Also, the Cockburn name is said to be pronounced “co-burns” and is said to derive from an Old English personal name meaning “warrior with black sword.” Still, doesn’t help inciting shits and giggles though.

6. Any product with “vic” in it and sold in Germany where it sounds like “fick” meaning “fuck.”

7. Sega has two cases in Italy and Sweden. In Sweden it means to procrastinate, do something slowly, and tough when it comes to food. In Italy, it means “to masturbate.”

8. There is a Latin American bread brand named Bimbo after its mascot a bear. Of course, call any feminist a bimbo in America and you’d get a very different reaction.

9. There is a German vitamin-boosted hot chocolate mix named Scho-vit. It’s obvious why it’s not popular in English-speaking countries.

10. The Polish piano maker Calisa sells under a different name in Finland since it’s similar to the Finnish word for “long underpants.”

11. I wonder if the light bulb company Osram ever knew that their name meant “I will shit (on something)” in Polish.

12. There is a shaving cream in Norway called, “Barber Skum.” Kind of an insult to English-speaking barbers.

13. There is a Barf Detergent in Iran with “barf” meaning “snow” in Persian. Of course, in English it pertains to why someone might need detergent.

14. A literal translation of a men’s underwear brand in Taiwan means “little yellow pansy.”

15. There is a bus company named Fucker in Germany and one in Switzerland named FART (listed on a travel guide as “that’s the company name, not the means of propulsion.”)

16. There is a South African truck line named Tata, a slang for breasts in the US.

17. It’s always been hard to translate a brand name into an acceptable one in foreign countries, more difficult if it’s from a different writing system:

a. Some Coca Cola mistranslations in Chinese range from “bite the wax tadpole” to “bite the wax-fattened mare.”

b. A Pepsi slogan that said “Come alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!” was allegedly mistranslated in Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!”

c. The Ben and Jerry flavor “Chunky Monkey” was mistranslated in Japanese as “Chunks of Monkey.”

18. Cars have a similar problem as well with names, especially marketing in Latin America:

a. Originally the Ford Cortina was going to be the Ford Caprino until the company learned that “caprino” means “goat-like” or “goaty” in Spanish. Though they didn’t know that “cortina” is Spanish for “curtain.”

b. Honda once introduced a model named “Fitta” until they learned it was crude term for female genitalia in Norwegian and Swedish. Was also going to be used with the slogan, “It looks small on the outside, but is huge once you get in.” Was renamed “Jazz” and “Fit” according to market.

c. Strangely the Buick Lacrosse was renamed the Buick Allure in Canada since “crosse” is Quebecois slang for “fraud, swindle, rip-off” as well as “to jerk off.” It was later restored to its original name and GM began offering replacement nameplates.

d. No one wanted to buy the Chevy Nova in Spanish speaking countries since “nova” means “doesn’t go.”

e. The Nissan Moco and Mazda Laputa could be seen in Spanish as the Nissan Snot and Mazda Whore.

f. The Mitshibishi Pajero was marketed the Montero or Shogun because “pajero” was Spanish slang for “wanker.”

g. The Toyota MR 2 failed to sell in France because it’s similar to “est merdeux” meaning “shitty.”

h. Chrysler did significant poorly when trying to sell in China because its company’s name was translated in Mandarin Chinese to “about to die.”

i. Bad marketing naming could be in English speaking countries as well. For instance, take the Nissan Cedric. “Cedric” was said to be an Australian slang term for homosexual. To which a Nissan exec said, “Australia has many homosexuals, therefore we shall sell many cars!”

19. While KFC’s slogans are “We do chicken right” and “Finger-Lickin’ Good” is translated to Chinese “It’s right that we become prostitutes” and “Eat Your Fingers Off.”

20. There is a major canned vegetable company named Sodd in Norway. Of course, it’s an archaic word for soup.

21. Taco once sold the chili cheese burrito as the “Chilito” until they learned it was Hispanic slang for “small penis.”

22. Though Sharwoods Bundh is a curry sauce, “bundh” is Punjabi slang for “backside.”

23. Though we know it as the appliance company BEKO, it’s actually named Arcelick in its native Turkey.

24. While Pixar may seem a clean name in English, in Catalan it means, “to urinate.”

25. The location bookmarking app Rego got publicity in Brazil after it was found, “rego” means “drain” or “gutter” in Portuguese.

26. The Perdue Farms’ slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” was once said to be translated in Mexico as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” And it may not be a mistranslation.

27. IKEA has plenty of these since they don’t relabel their products for foreign markets, no matter how stupid they sound in local languages. A few examples:

a. While Gutvick is a town in Sweden and a decent name to brand a bunk bed, in German it bears similarity to “guter fick” meaning “good fuck.”

b. While “Frak” is a mirror brand, in the US it is a  name for a set of mirrors in Battlestar Galactica as well as used as a verb describing as a gas and oil extraction process and short for “hydraulic fracturing,” “hydro-fracking,” or “fracking.” (Contrary to what oil and gas companies say, hydraulic fracturing has never been proven as a clean technology. Rather, it’s a controversial practice getting a lot of opposition from environmentalists and scientists alike.)

c. People in Finland were angry when IKEA named a toilet brush “Viren” also happening to be the last name of a legendary Finnish runner. Not to mention, it means viruses in German.

d. While “Kimme” may be a name of an IKEA chair, it also means “ass crack” in German.

e. While in Sweden “Jerker” may be a male name, “Farfull” means “speedy,” and “Lessebo” is a name of a town, all these sound funny in English.

f. Though “Sarna” is a name for an IKEA chair, it means “scabies” in Spanish.

g. Though “Hoven” may be a Swedish town and a perfectly fine name for a carpet, in Czech it’s the plural genitive form of the word meaning “shit.”

h. In IKEA “Trampa” is a doormat while it means “crap” in Portuguese and “trap” in Spanish.

28. Marketers of Colegate ran into problems when initially advertising in Latin America as “colgate” translates to “hang yourself” in voseante varieties in Spanish.

29. The slogan for vacuum company Electrolux “Nothing sucks like Electrolux” with very negative connotation in the US.

3o. The logo of German ball bearings company reads FAG.

31. There was once a security firm named Wackenut, named after its founder.

32. In Iceland there is an apartment company named “Fagmenn” (professionals), and there are advertising signs saying “Krap” (promoting slushies).

33. A Korean games company once launched a dictionary video game named “Touch Dic.”

34. There was once London nightclub named “Huje” which means “dicks” in Polish. (And it wasn’t one of those places.)

35. There was once a German auto-parts company named KKK that shares initials with the American racist hate group and a Philippine revolutionary group.

36. A proposed tourism slogan in Ireland was “Come for the Craic.” (And yes, it’s pronounced like crack which is Irish slang for fun but wouldn’t go well with Americans if you’ve seen The Wire or Canadians if you’ve seen Rob Ford.)

37. It’s said there’s a Spanish business named “Servicio de Hosteleria Industrial de Terrassa” (Terrassa’s Industrial Catering Service) which uses the acronym S.H.I.T. in its sign.

38. The animation studio, “Studio Khara” was named after the Greek words for “happiness” and “joy.” It also means “shit” in Arabic.

39. There was an Irish pub in Australia called Pug Mahones which is Irish Gaelic for “Kiss my arse.”

40. An Australian tourist ad saying “Where the bloody hell are you?” was banned in Britain and the US.

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