There are some big name companies that have made big international mistakes by simply not conducting research. Even though these mistakes make us laugh now, it was no laughing matter for the companies involved. Products sat on shelves and in warehouses due to unexpected translations. But let’s look at the bright side, giggle, and maybe learn a lesson or two from the past mistakes. Here are some of my personal favorites:
Gerber was having a lot of issues in France as the word ‘gerber’ means to vomit. Gerber is therefore not sold in France, although Gerber has a French Canadian web page attempting to explain this misunderstanding.
Coors translated its catchy campaign slogan, ‘Turn it loose’ into Spanish. It was read as ‘Suffer from diarrhea.’ Let’s just say this beverage was not a favorite in Spanish speaking countries for a while.
Budweiser's 'King of Beers' became 'Queen of Beers' in Spanish because the Spanish word for beer, 'cerveza,' has a feminine ending. Although this did not hurt sales completely, it changed the brand personality, reached a different target market, and disrupted their entire marketing plan.
The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name ‘FARTFULL’ for one of its new desks. Although ‘Fartfull’ merely meant ‘speedy’ in Swedish, IKEA had to eventually pull this workbench from their website for obvious reasons.
In the late 1970s, Wang, an American computer company, could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto ‘Wang Cares’. To British ears this sounds too close to ‘Wankers’ which would not really give a very positive image to any company.
The famous hair product company, Clairol, introduced into Germany the ‘Mist Stick’ curling iron. In German, ‘mist’ is slang for manure. As you can imagine, not too many people had use for the ‘manure stick’. And, while on the topic of ‘manure’ products in Germany, there was Irish Mist Liqueur and the Rolls Royce “Silver Mist” — these were some big mistunderstandings!
Translation is one of the biggest issues companies run into when advertising internationally. Make sure, before you start marketing internationally, you research the native language. In some cases (i.e. Gerber) there is just flat out no solution. In other cases a little prior research would have gone a long way!