Many companies jump too quickly at the possibility to globalize their brand that they fail to properly think things through. There are various important factors that brands should consider before they decide to take on the world. Does the brand name sound appropriate in a particular language? Does the slogan have a double meaning? Do they have a qualified marketing team ready to take on global brand expansion?
Once you get your head out of the clouds and your feet back on the ground, you’ll understand that global brand expansion is a lot of work. There’s a lot of research to be done and boxes to be ticked before you can launch your brand internationally. And unfortunately, some brands have learned this the hard way – through epic fails in global branding. But hey – shit happens. Here are 17 global brand failures from some of the most famous brands that you can learn a lot from.
1. Coca Cola
Translation and branding failures can get the best of everyone, including Coca-Cola. When the brand first appeared in China, their brand name was sometimes translated as “Bite the wax tadpole” or “Female horse stuffed with wax” – depending on the dialect.
Puffs failed to do the necessary research to find out how their brand name would fit into the German market. By the time they found out “puff” is slang for brothel, the damage was already done.
3. Parker Pen
Parker Pen had quite the translation ordeal in Mexico. Its tagline – “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was mistranslated into “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” What should have been an innocent reassurance to the Mexican market, turned out to be an epic brand failure instead.
4. HSBC Bank
HSBC Bank had to spend $10 million to change its tagline into “The world’s private bank” to be more translation-friendly. This rebranding move comes after their previous “Assume Nothing” campaign was translated as “Do Nothing” in multiple countries.
A KFC restaurant in Beijing made consumers think twice about visiting the restaurant after the well-known “finger-lickin’ good” slogan was translated into “eat your fingers off.”
The famous slogan from Pepsi – “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” had an unfortunate translation mishap in China. The slogan was translated as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” Who wouldn’t think twice about drinking Pepsi after reading this?
7. American Dairy Association
You’ve probably come across the American Dairy Association’s “Got Milk?” marketing campaign on more than one occasion. However, it failed to deliver the adequate message in the Spanish speaking world, being translated as – “Are You Lactating?”
In German, the letter “v” is pronounced “f”. So when the brand went to Germany, “Vicks” was read using the German pronunciation which is slang for sexual intercourse.
Coors’s slogan, “Turn it loose”, doesn’t translate quite well in Spanish. The term is used colloquially to describe having diarrhea. It’s probably not the message they wanted to convey.
This car manufacturer made not one, but two translation blunders. The first instance was when they were marketing the Ford Pinto in Brazil. Ford had no idea that the term “Pinto” actually means “tiny male genitals”. Then they made another translation mistake in Belgium, this time with their slogan. What should have been “Every car has a high-quality body” was instead translated into “Every car has a high-quality corpse”. Yes, this kind of image didn’t win them any points with consumers.
When Pampers was advertised in Japan, they used an image of a stork which confused consumers. Whereas western countries may be familiar with the story of a stork bringing babies, the Japanese are not. So the stork imagery loses all its value and Pampers wasted their marketing efforts on a meaningless marketing campaign. This proves that brands should research and identify any cultural differences before marketing their brand to a global audience.
12. American Motors
In the 1970’s, American Motors released their new car model, the Matador, in Puerto Rico. While matador means courage and strength in English, it translates to “killer” in Spanish. Not cool, at all.
When the Mitsubishi Pajero was introduced to the Spanish market, the company had no clue that “Pajero” means “jerk” in Spanish – until it was too late. They have since changed the name to Montero.
The Mazda LaPuta was inspired by the famous novel Gulliver’s Travels. However, little did the car manufacturer know that La Puta means “prostitute” in Spanish.
When Chevrolet released their model Nova, they hadn’t considered that the word translates as “no go” in Spanish. Pretty discouraging for drivers, don’t you think?
Cheesy taglines sometimes work but in the case of Electrolux they definitely don’t. Electrolux once advertised its vacuum cleaners to the U.S. market under the tagline, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
You would think car manufacturers would like to highlight how safe their cars are, right? Think again. When Mercedes-Benz launched in China they used the brand name “Bensi”, which just so happens to mean “rush to die.” Yes, it was an epic brand failure.
Don’t Let Shit Happen to Your Brand
Don’t hit and miss your international branding strategy and don’t get lost in translation. Your brand should be consistent across cultural norms and values. Take your time researching the foreign market and translate your brand name and slogan before your global launch.
We recommend working with international branding experts who know what they’re doing. Someone, well, like us – Trademark Protector. We can do the trademark research for you and ensure your brand remains consistent. This way, you can rest assured that your brand won’t be the laughingstock of the town or end up in a blog post like this one.
Contact us for an initial consultation completely free and let’s talk about global branding.