October 29, 2014

You, Sir, Are an Idiom: International Marketing Misfires

Probably one of the most important things to keep in mind as a marketer is the issue of miscommunication, especially when a message is being translated to a different language. But while some cross-cultural misfires can seriously jeopardize businesses, let’s be honest, they can also end up being really funny.

Here are some noteworthy examples of these cross-cultural misfires, courtesy of

  • In China, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”
  • In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of the desired “I Saw the Pope” in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed “I Saw the Potato.”
  • When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go.” After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

The lesson? Most of these mistakes are avoidable through research and testing of slogans in new markets before they run. And if you don’t take the appropriate precautions, you could end up getting laughed at in a blog somewhere just like this one.