Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing corporations.
It shouldn't be that hard, yet even the big multi-nationals run into
trouble because of language and cultural differences. For example...
The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la.
Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of
signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or
"female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then
researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent,
"ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
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
Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good"
came out as "eat your fingers off."
The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got
translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so
refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."
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.
Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company
found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford
pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.
When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed
to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the
company mistakenly thought the spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass.
Instead the ads said that "It wont leak in your pocket and make you
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."
Chicken-man Frank Perdue's slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender
chicken," got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo
of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico
with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken
Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos
before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means "big breasts." In
this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on
Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a
notorious porno mag.
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into
Schweppes Toilet Water.
Japan's second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered
English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex
tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company
changed its name.
In an effort to boost orange juice sales in predominantly continental
breakfast eating England, a campaign was devised to extoll the drink's
eye-opening, pick-me-up qualities. Hence the slogan, "Orange juice. It
gets your pecker up."
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