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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

That's Not Exactly What We Meant...

We've all heard the story about Chevrolet having trouble selling the Nova in South America. Nova, to the uninitiated, means "It doesn't go" in Spanish (165). Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time illustrates countless incidents of company PR work gone wrong, but my absolute favorites are the language gaffes. Here are a few to start your day off with a chuckle:
  • Toyota was misinformed when they tried to sell their Fiera in Puerto Rico. Fiera actually means "ugly old woman" (165). Not exactly appealing to the 30 and under crowd. Que, no?
  • In Germany, Rolls-Royce attempted to entice buyers with their luxury auto Silver Mist. Unfortunately, Mist means "animal droppings" in German (165).
  • Think other products are immune? Take a look at Pepsi trying to break open the Taiwanese market. Their slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" became "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" (163). I think I understand their misgivings.
  • Coors had a slightly different problem when they moved into Spain. It seems that their slogan "Turn it Loose" was transliterated into the remarkable warning "You will suffer from diarrhoea" (168).
  • Spain also had some mishaps with Frank Perdue's Chicken. Their original slogan "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was misinterpreted to read "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate" (169). Perhaps it was popular around Valentine's Day?
  • Last but not least, Parker Pens wanted to announce to Mexico that "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Excellent! This is what they actually said, "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant" (171). I suppose that is also good news.
Need more? Check out these mistranslations and article from

Haig, Matt. Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time. Kogan Page, 2003.

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