Lost in Translation? 5 International Marketing Fails


With over 60 years in FMCG products, we’ve seen our fair share of marketing fails – many of which are down to basic translation errors. With our experience in exporting, we’re always encouraging our clients to do their research into not just the commercial world of each market, but into its culture. Here are 5 firms who didn’t…

Coors ‘Turn it loose’ in Spanish  American beer giant Coors were left red faced upon launching their product into the Spanish speaking market, learning the hard way that US slang doesn’t always translate into other cultures quite as one would hope.

Upon launching their ‘Turn it loose’ campaign in Spanish, it was certainly remembered – just perhaps not for the reasons they’d hoped. When translated, the tagline used an expression commonly interpreted as ‘Suffer from diarrhoea’. Do your research, people.

Gerber Baby-Food In Africa

When Gerber began marketing their baby food in Africa, they failed to conduct sufficient research into the market and food packaging. Mistakenly, they used the same packaging as they did for Western markets, which featured a picture of a baby boy on the label.

Surprised at their product failing to sell, they soon discovered that in Africa, since most people can’t read, food labels generally include pictures of what’s inside. Oops!

KFC In Hong Kong

‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ is KFC’s famous slogan, recognised the world over. However, as KFC found out, it works better in some countries than in others. The franchise got off on the wrong foot in China in the late 1980s, when they opened up their first restaurant in Beijing.

The restaurant had accidentally translated its infamous slogan into the less appetising ‘Eat your fingers off’. In the end, however, KFC weren’t too badly off in China – it’s now the number 1 quick service restaurant in the country, with more than 4, 400 restaurants.

American Dairy Association: Got Milk? In Mexico

The American Dairy Association’s ‘Got Milk?’ in 1993 was wildly successful, and was even named one of the ten best commercials of all time by a USA today poll. The campaign’s tagline, however, didn’t score so highly in Mexico.

Yet another example of a Spanish translation fail, the direct translation was ‘Are you lactating?’. This was taken somewhat offensively by the Latin American market, as a Latina mother running out of milk is no laughing matter. Luckily, this was detected early.

Pepsi, China

Soft drinks giant Pepsi made a similar-scale blunder upon launching into China. While Pepsi was performing brilliantly in the West, China posed a very different outlook – sales were dropping swiftly.  It took Pepsi a while to realise that their slogan – ‘Pepsi brings you back to life’, when translated into Chinese directly meant ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’.

This was not an ideal marketing strategy in a country where the worship of ancestors is such a key part of the culture. Those Chinese translators will be raking it in now…

Are you looking for advice on exporting and translation? Or are you simply looking for more information? Call us on 01803 203387 or email at [email protected].

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