In order to keep one brand identity in international markets, many companies choose to stay with the same marketing campaign and brand message from their own country, in every country. However, this can create difficulties.

Brand blunder refers to the mistakes associated with the branding of a product, particularly a new product in a new market. This can happen due to the lack of understanding the language, culture or consumer attitude of a specific market. This can all be very detrimental to a brand when attempting to launch into a new market if not carefully implemented.

international marketing

It is normal for any company planning to go abroad, to struggle with new cultural challenges. Without question, the most frustrating obstacle is the inescapable language barrier. Just ask Pepsi. When Pepsi attempted to expand its “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” into Taiwan, it unfortunately translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Yikes! How brutal.

It is important to remember to test your message and image prior to launching in a new country.

There are many international marketing mistakes that have been made by experienced global strategists who assumed similarity rather than difference. Below are some hilarious examples of brand blunders in marketing history (as you will shortly see, they can happen in any type of industry!).

Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC marketing

KFC made some early missteps into China – one of them being their famous advertising campaign slogan: “Finger lickin’ good!” translating to “Eat your fingers off.” Not so appealing anymore…

Coors

Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea.”

Coors marketing

Honda

In 2001, Honda intended to release a car known as the Fit in Asian markets as the Honda Fitta on the European market. However, in Swedish, fitta means female genitalia. Honda then rebranded the car as Honda Jazz.

Honda Fitta

General Motors

GM’s Chevrolet Nova was a failure in Spanish speaking countries (Central and South America) because it translates to “It Doesn’t Go”. Who wants a car that fails at its sole job?

Chevy Marketing

Coca-Cola

coca-cola marketing

In my last blog 7 Fantastic Christmas Commercials, I stated how fond I was of Coca-Cola ad campaigns. However, even the best branded powerhouse companies can make mistakes!

The Coca-Cola name in China was first interpreted as “Ke-kou-ke-la,” meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax,” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched to find a phonetic equivalent “ko-kou-ko-le,” translating into “happiness in the mouth.”

Clairol

Clairol marketing blunder

Clairol’s curling iron “Mist Stick” did so well in the US, that company executives decided to bring it to the German market. However, the problem was that “Mist” in German slang means “manure”. So, Clairol introduced Germany to the “Manure Stick”. Obviously, this product was a failure, because they were not able translate the name to ensure they weren’t offending anyone or giving their product (and brand) a bad name and reputation. Stop horsin’ around Clairol!

American Dairy Association

The ADA was so successful with its “Got Milk?” campaign that they decided to expand the ads to Mexico. Unfortunately, the Spanish translation is “Are you lactating?”

branding blunders

Nike

Nike offended Muslims when the “flaming air” logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked comparable to the Arabic form of God’s name “Allah”.

Nike marketing

Ford

In 1971, Ford couldn’t understand why their Pinto model wasn’t selling in Brazil. After some research, they found out that “Pinto” in Brazilian is slang for “tiny male genitals.”

Ford marketing

Gerber

When Gerber began selling baby food in Africa, they decided to use the exact same packaging as in the US, with their infamous baby on the label. However, since the majority of people can’t read English in Africa, companies there sometimes put pictures on the label of what’s inside. Oh dear…

Gerber marketing

Colgate

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a famous porno magazine.

Colgate marketing

Schwepps

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into “Schweppes Toilet Water.”

Schweppes Tonic Water
Frank Perdue

Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Frank Perdue
To avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes, ensure that you work with a experience and notable translation service and review the final wording and imaging with your country’s marketing executive, or an outside translator knowledgeable with your target market’s language for context purposes.

If you would like to know more about bringing your company’s product abroad, here are some steps to follow to ensure global launch success.

What are some other language marketing mistakes you have seen in ad campaigns?