Lost In Translation…

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to have your branding or marketing efforts translated into another language? If you have then you may have wondered what the translation really said and whether or not the true meaning of your message had been preserved. Although you are probably not the first person wondering this there are definitely more than a few people at very high profile companies that maybe should have wondered this over the years. Here are a few examples of where companies have not taken into account cultural differences or simply not realized that some things just don’t translate literally or at least maybe should not:

Possibly one of the most famous translation mistakes was carried out by Pepsi a few years ago when they started advertising in China that their Cola would ‘bring your ancestors back from the dead’. This was of course a literal translation of the company’s North American Slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation”. Despite the fact that the Chinese version may be a more impressive claim some people might argue it is false advertising.

Of course Pepsi’s eternal rival Coca Cola couldn’t let themselves be outdone and sure enough they found their own literal translation mistake when they had their brand name translated into Chinese. There was a small mistake in the symbols and instead of Coca Cola it was telling everyone to ‘bite the wax tadpole’.

Not being finished with two of Americas favorite drinks manufacturers the Chinese also helped embarrass the famous Colonel when he tried to sell his Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC’s famous ‘Finger Lickin Good” slogan literally translated to ‘Eat Your Fingers Off”, possibly a better option than admitting to a late night binge but still probably a little extreme.

One of my personal favorite stories of recent years was the Ford Pinto. I have no problem with the car and I am sure it’s sales in America were very good. However, I would doubt it sold overly well in Brazil where ‘Pinto’ is slang for ‘Tiny Male Genitals’.

A similar problem arose, or should I same came up, for Purdue Chicken when they posted billboards in Mexico with their slogan ‘it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’ except that the slogan had been miss translated to say ‘It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused’.

Not everything comes down to purely errors in translation. Sometimes the language doesn’t even matter. In many third world countries a large proportion of the population can’t read. As a result it is typical for these countries to produce products with photos on them depicting the contents. Thus when the United States and British Governments donated ‘Gerber’ baby food to African tribes there was a certain amount of distress caused. Imagine a group of people who believe that the image on the product depicts the contents being given a large number of jars with pictures of babies on them.

As you can see it is definitely worth looking into what you are really saying before you sign off on any translation you may have done. Remember asking for professional advice could save you a lot of embarrassment and we at Found In Translation can offer just this expertise. Please contact us at translate@found-n-translation.com with any questions you may have.

 With that in mind I will leave you with one final bit of advice. When in a coffee shop in Germany I recommend you don’t order a ‘Latte’ as this translates as ‘erection’ a lesson which Starbucks learnt the hard way, literally. 


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