We decided to have a little fun with today’s translation lesson. Or poke some fun, I guess you could say. Because when it comes to global branding, the last thing a company is going to find funny is a translation mistake. Fortunately for those of us who have paid attention in global marketing 101, we can sit back and have a few laughs. Let’s take a look at some hilarious translation history…
In the years 1930 to 1967, Pepsi’s slogan “Come Alive! You’re In the Pepsi Generation” was their way of targeting the youth, and those who saw themselves as youthful, to drink Pepsi. Little did they know, they were also targeting some very old souls. So old, they were dead. As it turned out, the slogan translated as ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead” in China. Taking a look at Pepsi’s popularity today, it’s safe to say they have bounced back from the global branding debacle, but not without a few skeletons in their closet.
From drinks to dinner, KFC has built itself a ‘finger-licking good’ global company with its tasty chicken recipes. But the Colonel hasn’t always made such a welcoming entrance. In 1987, when KFC opened its first outlet in Beijing (and the first ever fast-food restaurant in China), their catchy brand slogan came off a bit too much, translating as “eat your fingers off”. Needless to say, some less cannibalistic alterations were made.
In 2006, the leading hair product company Clairol found itself in its own global translation tangle. The company’s “Mist-Stick” curling iron had great selling success in the US, but it didn’t stick as well in the German market. A little too late the company found out that “mist” translated as “manure” in German slang. As interesting as a “manure-stick” may sound, it was a mucky take on a new hair product.
As funny as these global branding mistakes may be, there is a lesson to be learned from today’s translation history review. Regardless of your brand’s size, you can’t afford to make translation mistakes. A mix-up is not worth the money, time and effort it takes to repair a global brand image. These companies didn’t do their homework, have you?
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