Top 10 EPIC Advertising Translation Fails

Script written by Shane Fraser.

Have you ever wondered about the worst foreign ad translation fails? Whether it’s the Ford Pinto translating to “small penis” in Brazilian Portuguese, the California Milk Processor Board asking people if they’re lactating, Nokia calling their cell phone a prostitute or KFC telling people to eat their fingers off, some famous companies have made epic fails in global branding. WatchMojo counts down ten international marketing mistakes that involve translation fails.

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Script written by Shane Fraser.

Top 10 WTF Translation Fails in Advertising


Sometimes unintentional humour is the best of all. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 epic product translation fails.

For this list, we’ll be looking at companies and their international marketing blunders. The more extreme or hilarious the translation fail, the higher its position on this list.

#10: HSBC Bank “Do Nothing”


In 2009, the banking giant HSBC tried using a version of their American slogan in many foreign markets. The slogan, “Assume Nothing,” was instead translated to “Do Nothing” in many countries, which put HSBC in a tailspin. If you’re trying to motivate customers to move to your bank, “Do nothing” is not a positive message. Executives, understandably, were panicked. The company ended up spending $10 million to remedy the situation. In the end, HSBC decided on the tagline “The world’s local bank,” which, to our knowledge, had no translation issues. Still, the error serves as a valuable warning on the trials of international business.



#9: Nokia “Prostitute”


In 2011, the Finnish communications company Nokia released their Lumia cell phone. It was a perfect name for a hip new electronics brand: vaguely futuristic and audibly pleasing. In Spain, however, Lumia takes pleasing to another level. Perhaps Nokia should have consulted some foreign friends before naming the phone, as “Lumia” translates in Spanish to “Prostitute.” It is not a formal Spanish word, but a colloquialism in the same vein as “whore” or “hooker.” Looks like the shoddy battery and sound wasn’t the only thing people had to complain about.



#8: California Milk Processor Board “Are You Lactating?”


“Got Milk?” is one of the most recognized advertising campaigns in North America. It was first conceived by the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners advertising company, then released by the California Milk Processor Board in 1993. The campaign was a giant success, and the slogan was plastered everywhere in media. When the board decided to send the campaign across the border, further increasing their public profile, they hit a hilarious roadblock. “Got Milk?” became “Are You Lactating?” in Spanish translations. Lucky for them, the board caught the mistake before it could really spoil their plans.


#7: KFC “Eat Your Fingers Off!”

KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan is one of the best known in American advertising. Trademarked in 1956, the tagline has been used on and off ever since, and as KFC expanded to foreign markets, “Finger Lickin’ Good” went with it, though to sometimes hilarious results. In 1987, KFC entered China and became the first Western fast food joint chain to open there. Though the integration was beyond successful, the first Beijing restaurant opened with jeers as the famous tagline translated in Mandarin to “Eat your Fingers Off.” KFC still proved to be a success in China with over 5000 restaurants in the country popping up since the late ‘80s… despite that blunder suggesting self-cannibalism.



#6: Ford Pinto “Small Penis”


Along with being one of the worst cars ever invented, the Ford Pinto has one of the worst names in translation history. With a track record that would make an explosives expert smile, the Pinto needed all the help it could get to sell cars in other countries, like Brazil for instance. Unfortunately, “pinto” in Brazilian Portuguese is a colloquial term for “small penis”, which added a unique problem to an already hazardous sales campaign. After many recalls and marketing and manufacturing disasters, Ford gave up on the Pinto and stopped making them in 1980, marking the end of a short nine-year run.



#5: Green Giant “Intimidating Green Ogre”


The Jolly Green Giant is a supermarket staple and one of the most famous mascots in produce. Few people can conjure the image of the giant without hearing the ubiquitous jingle, showing the affable giant in a leafy tunic. Green Giant peas and carrots products are sold across native North America, and have been advertised in other countries, to sometimes humorous effect. In the ‘60s, the amiable giant moved to Saudi Arabia, and unfortunately, their mascot’s friendly demeanor didn’t come across. When transcribed in Arabic, he became known as “Intimidating Green Ogre.” SO close.



#4: Braniff International Airways “Fly Naked”


Younger viewers probably only know Braniff from the jingle that finishes “South Park” episodes, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually took that clip from a commercial of a real airline and named their production company after it. Braniff was an American airline that ran from 1928 to 1982, and came back in other forms until the early ‘90s. In 1987, Braniff wanted to promote its leather seats, and the advertising in Mexico caused waves of hilarity. The slogan was “Fly in Leather,” but “in leather,” which is “en cuero” in Spanish, is very similar to “en cueros,” which means “naked.” Weirdly enough, the company never changed it.



#3: Parker Pen Company “Won't Leak In Your Pocket And Impregnate You”


The U.S.-based company, founded in Wisconsin in 1888, had one of the most unique translation fails. Parker Pens expanded to Mexico, and shocked potential Spanish-speaking purchasers of the pens with the slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.” The company’s intended meaning had been “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you,” thinking the Spanish word “Embarazada” meant “embarrassed” as it sounded, but… no. Of all the translation blunders, we’re not sure there’s another that missed the point so bad… unless Parker pens have a special ingredient they’re not telling us about.



#2: Schweppes “Toilet Water”


Founded in Switzerland in 1783, Schweppes has been in the bizz a LONG time. In fact, their signature product carbonated water, better known as tonic water, was the first soft drink ever invented. Despite creating additional products like club soda and ginger ale, it was the tonic water that got Schweppes in trouble thanks to an ill-fated sales campaign in Italy. The Italian language was not kind to Schweppes’s “tonic water,” as it translated the product to “toilet water.” Suffice it to say, “Schweppes Toilet Water” was not exactly a successful product in the Italian market, and the company had to flush out the issue.



No honorable mentions this time around!



#1: Perdue Farms “It Takes a Horny Man to Make a Chicken Affectionate”


Well that’s a mouthful. Perdue is one of the leading producers of pork and poultry in the United States. Founded by Arthur Perdue but succeeded by his son Frank, it was something Frank said that led to this very serious gaffe. Coming from a quote by Frank Perdue, the company adopted the long-time slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” When this was translated for Spanish-speakers, it instead came out as “It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate.” This sage advice may or may not be true, but it's doubtful Frank Perdue appreciated the mix-up.



Do you agree with our list? Which translation fail did you find most humorous? For more linguistic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

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