10. Schweppes’s Bathroom Blunder
In modern society, we have come to expect certain things from our drinking water. Most people want their water clean, clear, and in no way associated with human waste. It’s that last part that caused a bit of a problem for Schweppes.
When tonic water manufacturer Schweppes decided to reach out to Italian customers with a shiny new ad campaign, they clearly forgot to consult their pocket dictionaries. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to mistake the Italian words for “tonic” and “toilet.” So, when Schweppes unveiled their product to Italy’s thirsty masses, they inadvertently offered them all a tall glass of toilet water. Despite getting the thumbs up from millions of the country’s canines, the human residents politely declined. Having thoroughly humiliated themselves, the company cut their losses and moved on to new, more well researched — and significantly less nauseating — campaigns.
9. Clairol’s Fecal Flub
The world of cosmetics advertising is pretty predictable. It’s always unrealistically beautiful models smiling at the camera while obnoxious pop music blares in the background. We’ve all seen it far too many times. Maybe that’s why Clairol decided to shake it up a bit with their German ad campaign.
The “Mist Stick” was a simple curling iron developed by the cosmetics company a while back. It proved fairly popular everywhere it was introduced, except Germany. You see, in German slang, “mist” means feces or manure. As you can imagine, it was somewhat difficult to convince millions of people to smear excrement through their hair, dooming the campaign to failure.
In Clairol’s defense, companies can’t really be expected to keep up with every obscure slang term that crops up in foreign countries. But really, “Mist Stick” is a pretty boring name anyway, so at least Germans were able to get a cheap laugh out of it.
8. Pepsi’s Zombie Apocalypse
Advertisements boasting the over-the-top benefits of their products are certainly nothing new. We’ve all seen the commercials claiming Axe body spray will turn you into an orgy on two legs. These stretches of the truth are so commonplace that we tend to completely overlook them . . . until one claims to raise the dead.
When Pepsi decided to peddle their soft drinks to Asian customers, they used a simple translation of their slogan at the time, “Pepsi brings you back to life.” Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s not too bad. Unless you speak Chinese. Due to a poorly thought out translation, Pepsi ended up promising an entire nation that “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”
The thing is, while this may have been a laughable little slip up in most Western cultures, China is big on ancestor worship. Holding their deceased loved ones in high regard, the Chinese were less than amused with Pepsi’s false claims, leading to a sharp decrease in sales following the ad campaign.
7. Parker Pens’ Pregnancy Scare
When purchasing a pen, there are many serious questions you must ask yourself. Which pen will I get the most use out of? Which pen suits my lifestyle? Which pen has the least chance of impregnating me? Well, worry not. Parker Pens has all the answers.
When marketing their new “Quink” pen — a marketing faux pas in and of itself — to Spanish customers, the Parker Pen Company made an embarrassing, but hopefully accurate, claim. When translating the promise that the Quink pen won’t “leak and embarrass you,” they translated “embarrass” to “embarazar.” Seems right at first glance, except that “embarazar” is actually the Spanish term for making someone pregnant. Parker Pens ended up assuring their Spanish customers that their newest writing device wouldn’t leak and put a baby in them. It may not be the greatest way to sell pens, but I can’t think of a better slogan for Trojan condoms.
6. Ford’s Penis Problem
Cars and penises have a long and complicated relationship. Whether or not that’s actually the case, it’s generally accepted that large or flashy vehicles serve as surrogate genitals for the unfortunately under-endowed. This is why it is in no way surprising that the Ford Pinto was an utter flop in Brazil.
Just like the Mist Stick, local slang was the downfall of the Ford Motor Company’s Pinto. Presumably named after the breed of horse, the name had a very different meaning to Portuguese-speaking Brazilian customers. As you may have guessed by now, “pinto” means penis. But if that was all, sales probably wouldn’t have suffered so badly.
It turns out “pinto” means a really, really, small penis. Obviously, this laughably ill-informed marketing campaign failed almost immediately, as no guy really wants to go out for a night on the town in a car that literally says “tiny penis.” That’ll seriously hurt your game, brah.
5. Ford’s Macabre Mistake
You know those old urban legends about the kid who buys the classic car for an unbelievably low price, only to find out someone died in it? Most of us treat that like a modern-day Aesop’s fable, warning listeners to be careful with offers that seem too good to be true. Ford, on the other hand, may have interpreted the tale somewhat differently.
For their Belgian ads, Ford thought they would boast the high-quality craftsmanship that went into their vehicles. Using the slogan “Every car has a high quality body” to highlight the sturdiness and dependability of their automobiles, they sat back and waited for the cash to roll in.
It didn’t. Apparently, Belgians aren’t terribly interested in dead bodies as standard features in their brand new cars. As it happens, Ford had made a slight error when translating their innocent catchphrase. By mistaking the word “body” for the word “corpse,” they had accidentally promised a decomposing body with every sale. But really, in an industry that regularly uses inflatable gorillas and guys on stilts to rope in customers, is it really that strange?
4. Mercedes-Benz’s Deadly Dilemma
When describing what will happen to you should you buy their car, automobile manufacturers don’t seem entirely grounded in reality. Sex, wealth, the secret of immortality — we’ve come to expect these ridiculous little myths. But Mercedes-Benz deserves a pat on the back for keeping it refreshingly real with their Chinese marketing strategy.
When translating “Mercedes-Benz” into Chinese, the company ran into a bit of a snag. Often, translating a name into Chinese means simply finding the characters that make sounds similar to the name, and hoping they mean something flattering. To introduce the name “Benz” to Chinese customers, the car company used symbols to form the word “Bensi.” Sounds nice, right?
It’s too bad “Bensi” literally means “rush to die.” Obviously, few auto enthusiasts are interested in even thinking about the worst case scenario of car ownership, let alone having it guaranteed. After disappointing sales, the company altered the name to the much more appropriate “Benchi,” or “run quickly as if flying.”
3. Perdue’s ‘Love’ Of Chicken
Everyone likes chicken. There are a million ways to cook it and pretty much everything tastes like it. So you wouldn’t think there would be many ways one could mess up selling it. And that may very well be true, but there is definitely at least one.
When poultry purveyor Perdue took its business to Mexico, something was definitely lost in translation. Billboards plastered with the company’s slogan “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” certainly turned heads on the highway, but for none of the right reasons. Due to an incredibly poor translation, the chicken company ended up assuring passing motorists that “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”
While an ad campaign focused wholly on bestiality may have earned them a few shady new customers, it probably lost them significantly more. So, you know, maybe at least glance at that English-to-Spanish dictionary before launching a multi-million dollar ad campaign.
2. KFC’s Cannibal-Friendly Faux Pas
Speaking of chicken, bird-frying giant KFC isn’t immune to translation errors, either. Incredibly popular in China, you would never know that the company’s big debut in the country was almost completely derailed by a horrifying miscommunication. Hilarious, but horrifying.
When KFC first opened its doors to China in 1987, they immediately became familiar with the difficulties of translating just about anything into Chinese. Subtle differences between characters can have drastically different meanings. So when the slogan “It’s finger-lickin’ good” was introduced to Chinese audiences, the company ended up promising customers that their food was so good, they’d gnaw off their own fingers. Or maybe it was more like a promotional thing, “Buy two sides and we’ll chew off your pinkie.”
At any rate, poultry enthusiasts weren’t deterred for long. KFC soon got its act together and is now famous throughout China for its chicken, as well as its local specialties: fermented eggs and fungus.
1. Gerber’s Literal Baby Food
If there is a single industry in which you want absolutely no shady implications, it’s baby food. People lose their minds when it comes to the safety of their children, or of any children really. Which may explain why Gerber appalled, terrified, and nauseated potential customers when taking their brand to Ethiopia.
In a blunder more to do with the local culture than the local language, Gerber kept their cutesy baby mascot plastered all over their packaging in Ethiopian markets. Unfortunately, though, literacy rates in Ethiopia were quite low, leading to the practice of placing images of the product on the packaging. So when Gerber came to town, as far as the locals were concerned, they were peddling tiny glass jars of pureed baby flesh. Sales obviously plummeted, because even if you know better, would you really want to take that chance? If nothing else, it at least made for a handy way to weed out the local psychopaths.