10 global companies who failed at translating

Hello Yuqo
Hello Yuqo
Nothing gets a better reaction than when multinational companies drop the ball on their marketing campaigns. There is a message behind that failure though; informed translation is hugely important to business success.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Translation is often viewed as a simple task. With the inclusion of tools like Google Translate built into Chrome, it may seem obvious to let these types of software do the legwork for you. As you will see, poor translation either from automated services or an amateur translation team can have hilarious—but ultimately damaging—repercussions.



Understanding turns of phrase, local colloquialisms, or the cultural significance of certain words is something services like Google Translate will never be able to match when put up against a highly skilled translation team. The only way to ensure translated texts of the highest standard is through native translators with a detailed understanding of the target language. Whether you are a well-established brand or a fledegling company, translating your marketing campaigns increases potential consumers. There is a caveat; that principle only works if the message or tagline you are trying to translate reads the same in different languages, and thus conveys the same intended meaning.




A tailored approach to translation will always reap better results than a standardised attempt to alter a message for a new audience. It is likely that by the time translation becomes a factor in your business plan, a substantial amount of investment will have already gone into ad revenue, graphic design, and content generation. It would be ludicrous to throw all that away when opting for automated services over an experienced translation team.



The following examples should provide some side-splitting reactions. While it is always fun to engage in a little schadenfreude, these 10 missteps generated a lot of negative publicity and blew precious resources. Unfortunately, it isn’t true what they say, “There is no such thing as bad press”—there really is!


The following examples should provide some side-splitting reactions.



The humble Honda Jazz is a car purchased around the world for its small size and famous Japanese reliability. It was not always smooth sailing for Honda, though. Formerly, the Jazz model was called Honda Fitta, probably not quite as catchy, but not terrible by any means. However, when Honda decided to produce the car in Sweden, they didn’t realise “fitta” was also a defamatory word relating to a women’s genitals. I think you will agree; Honda Jazz sounds much better.



This cheap beer from America is also the victim of one of marketing’s most memorable translation faux pas. “Turn it loose” had proved hugely successful for an American audience, however, the same could not be said for the Spanish market. When trying to adapt the tagline, Spanish consumers could look forward to a slogan that read “Suffer from diarrhoea”. We think it’s likely they would have given that beer a pass.



Last year, McDonald’s had over 37,000 stores worldwide. With such an instantly recognisable presence, you would think even they would be clear of any translation fails. Fortunately for us, they are not, courtesy of their signature Big Mac burger. When introduced in France, Big Mac was translated to “Gros Mec”, meaning “Big Pimp”.



Another infamous failed translation attempt. China represents a vast untapped market, something Pepsi wanted to take advantage of. With the upbeat slogan “Come alive with Pepsi”, success would surely be guaranteed. Regrettably, the literal translation became “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead”. In a country steeped in traditional values, this was not a smart move.



There is no stopping the unrelenting force that is Marvel Entertainment. Their films have captured the imagination of adults and children the world over. With such a global presence, surely they must have an incredibly skilled and detail-oriented translation team? If the translation of Avengers: Infinity War for Korean audiences is anything to go by—not really. Many moviegoers felt the translator’s English wasn’t even to a basic standard. In fact, viewers were so outraged that they started a petition to get the translator fired, which is unsurprising when the word “seed” was translated to the Korean word for a popular four-letter slur beginning with F.



Car sales of the Ford Pinto never took off in Brazil. Despite an expertly crafted marketing campaign encouraging consumers to “Put a Pinto under the tree”, Brazilians translated “pinto” to “tiny male genitals”. There are not many demographics that would like those under the Christmas tree.


We have featured Pepsi, so it seems only fitting to show off an equally impressive translation fail by Coca-Cola.



Created by Goodbye, Silverstein & Partners, the “Got Milk” campaign attracted a ton of positive feedback. That was until it was released in Mexico. When translated, the Mexican campaign read “Are you lactating?”. Not quite the meaning they intended.



We have featured Pepsi, so it seems only fitting to show off an equally impressive translation fail by Coca-Cola. Directly translated into Chinese, Coca-Cola becomes Ke-Kou-Ke-La, meaning either “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect.



Simple but effective, that’s the sign of a successful marketing campaign right? Well, it is until “Schweppes tonic water” was translated into Italian and read as “Schweppes toilet water”.



The classics are the best. Perdue chicken wanted to expand into the Spanish market with the tagline “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken”. The result when translated was “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate”. One makes for a nice dinner, the other is definitely a criminal offence.



Those previous translation fails incorporate a combination of issues—automated translation gone awry, as well as a lack of understanding by translation teams. With the significant repercussions of getting translation wrong, getting it right is an absolute must. The aforementioned companies are not small by any measure, so the risk of poor translation is not reserved to those with a smaller budget.

Granted, many of these translation fails have since been rectified—or Google’s algorithm for Translate updated. However, if you ever need cheering up, social media sites like Twitter are awash with translation fails the world over. Language is continually evolving; as such, a native translation team at the forefront of your content marketing approach is essential. Fortunately, Yuqo offers an expert team of translators and editors who speak, write, and have an in-depth understanding of many European languages. If your company needs support in taking your business into international markets, we are here to help.