Each time a company decides to focus on a new market, roaring in like a lion to win over new customers, the operation can be difficult, trying and tense… particularly when the roar is more of a snore, little suited to the business jungle of the target country.
Many companies in recent times have taken the crucial decision to locate abroad, with varying degrees of success. Poor knowledge of the market has often been the main reason for the failure. In some cases, the reason was quite different, however: poor knowledge of the local language.
Here are some classic examples of bad translations of brand mottoes that illustrate the importance of a good translation by a qualified, experienced, native speaker.
During the first advertising campaign for Coca-Cola on the Chinese market, the global brand decided to translate its name by « Kekoukela« , which in some Chinese dialects literally means « Mare stuffed with wax« , which can obviously cause some corporate image problems.
« Kekoukele » was finally retained, meaning « happiness in the mouth ».
Coca-Cola’s arch rival also learnt to their cost the importance of localized translation suitable not only for the brand but for the target country.
The advertising campaign for Pepsi said: « Come alive with the Pepsi Generation« . The Chinese translation was quite different: « Pepsi raises your ancestors from their graves. » The translation not only had nothing to do with the original slogan, but it was found offensive: the Chinese have great respect for their dead.
For the record, a second translation error a little later further tarnished their image. Pepsi decided to change the colour of its automatic dispensers from dark to light blue, regardless of the way the colours might be interpreted. Sky blue being synonymous with death and mourning, the group saw its sales collapse.
A localized translation must be suitable not only for the language of the target country but also for its culture, habits and customs if the motto is to create a positive image.
After the much-publicized launch of the « Nova » urban sedan in South America, it took some time for the US manufacturer Chevrolet (owned by the General Motors major) to realize their error. « Nova » in Spanish can mean « no go« . Which is a bad sign for any buyer of the vehicle. Sales were low or non-existent. The manufacturer finally managed to ignite sales by renaming the city car « Caribe ».
The Swedish brand is simply the global leader in household electrical appliances. During the launch of their US campaign in the 60s the company translated its tag line by « Nothing sucks like an Electrolux. » What in the world were the global leader’s marketing team thinking about? The slogan was obviously supposed to mean « No vacuum cleaner is as good as an Electrolux » – OK. But the flip side was none other than its slang meaning « It sucks » – and that’s a polite interpretation.
Many Western companies have been burnt trying to enter the Chinese market. KFC is a leader in this respect with the launch of their campaign in 1987 with the « Finger lickin’ good » slogan. The poorly translated trademark became « Eat your own fingers » … which does not exactly create an urge to stop at one of their outlets.
These translation errors by major brands are further additions to a long list of celebrated translation errors which have sometimes sadly marked our past. Here is a link to our article on the translation error which led to the bombing of Hiroshima: « https://jlvtraductions.com/fr/les-erreurs-de-traduction-celebres-episode-1/«