lost in translation

I work in an industry where knowing what to say to whom, how, when and with what frequency makes all the difference. Rocket science, no.  Art + science, yes.

So I’m forever cracking up when another example of what not to say makes headlines. Like it did this week when a huge outdoor ad in Kosovo promoting the country’s new “birth” of international finance mixed up the words newborn and new porn.

These days, when I’m told what I write will be translated into another language, I insist that we have an actual language speaker AND READER review the end product. Learned that lesson on a project promoting frozen French fries in China. The brochure was beautifully printed in Mandarin…I checked the proof…and had no clue that the huge headline in Mandarin was upside down.

But it coulda been worse…like when:

• Coors shared its slogan–Turn it loose!–in Spanish, where it was read as “suffer from diarrhea.”

• Clairol’s curling iron called Mist Stick entered German markets, where mist is slang for manure. 

• Electrolux–the Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer–launched its American campaign with the theme: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.

• The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, Salem-Feeling Free, appeared in the Japanese marketplace as “When smoking Salem, you will feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.”

• Gerber thought it could use its U.S. happy-baby packaging in Africa. Only to learn that, there, where most do not read English, food processors label their cans with pictures of the contents.

• Colgate’s Cue toothpaste sounded good on paper, but when launched in France, shared the name of an infamous porno publication.

• A Miami T-shirt maker thought he was promoting a Vatican visit with shirts reading: I saw the Pope (el Papa). Actually, they announced: I saw the potato (la papa).

• Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen to Mexican audiences with ads saying (ad folks thought):  “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. But the word they chose–embarazar–doesn’t man embarrass, after all. It means impregnate. So the ad read:It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.

• In the U.S., Pepsi gave us Come alive with the Pepsi Generation.  Translated into Chinese?  “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

 Think they’d like fries with that?

P.S. Several of these came from a posting by Dave Littell. Thanks for sharing, Dave.


2 Responses to “lost in translation”

  1. I actually like the Electrolux one! It’s really catchy and edgy.

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