7 International Marketing Campaigns That Failed to Translate

We’re inundated with marketing campaigns every hour of every day – from billboard advertisements to events and the articles we read. But there’s a fine line between a campaign that succeeds and a campaign that fails to resonate with its intended audience.

Companies will often spend millions on marketing, with even the tiniest details (such as phrases and hair colour) carefully considered.


The problem comes when a brand decides to expand internationally and fails to carefully adapt its messaging for an international audience. At the very least this is likely to result in an unsuccessful campaign. But in many cases it can result in a hugely damaging (if sometimes quite amusing) cultural blunder.

‘One Size Fits All’ International Marketing Doesn’t Work

Let’s take a television advertising campaign promoting Indian Mobile phone company Bharti Airtel in Africa as an example. With business in 17 African countries, the brand wanted to create a campaign that would have continent-wide appeal.

However, they severely underestimated Africa’s cultural diversity. The use of South African actors, images of the Savannah and coins – when many Africans only use paper money – resulted in the campaign failing to resonate in many countries and monumentally flopping.

The message was clear – a cut and paste approach to global marketing doesn’t work on the same continent, let alone different ones.

International Marketing Campaigns That Failed to Translate

So, what happens when a campaign goes monumentally wrong?

Coors ‘Suffer From Diarrhoea’

For a large part of its history, Coors beer could only be found in the western US and was affectionately known as ‘Colorado Kool-Aid’. The company’s ‘Turn It Loose!’ slogan was successful in America but had a surprising impact in Spanish-speaking Mexico, where the literal translation predicted that anyone who drank Coors would ‘Suffer From Diarrhoea!

American Motors Launches ‘The Killer’

When American Motors launched a car named ‘Matador’, they were confident of sales success, with research suggesting that the word meant virility and excitement to consumers. However, when they introduced the model to Puerto Rico they ran into trouble. It turned out that matador was the Spanish word for ‘killer’ – hardly a good advertisement.

Pepsi ‘Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave’

When Pepsi entered the Chinese market it launched with the slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’. Unfortunately, the company failed to realise that the phrase had been translated as ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave. Not an ideal blunder in a country where reverence for ancestors is an important part of the culture.

Pepsodent ‘You’ll Wonder Where the Yellow Went’

When Pepsodent tried to sell toothpaste in South East Asia by promising white teeth, the brand overlooked a key cultural factor. In this part of the world, people chew betel nuts to try and blacken their teeth – a habit which is viewed as a status symbol. Consequently, the brand’s promise wasn’t what their audience wanted to hear.

Ford ‘Tiny Male Genitals’

When Ford introduced the popular Pinto to Brazil they were surprised to find that sales went nowhere. After some investigation it transpired that ‘Pinto’ was slang in Brazil for ‘tiny male genitals’. The brand quickly removed the nameplates from the cars and changed them to read ‘Corcel’, which means horse.

Braniff Airlines ‘Fly Naked’

When the now defunct Braniff airlines decided they wanted to appeal to first class customers, they created a campaign to promote their leather upholstery in Mexico. Unfortunately the tag line ‘Fly In Leather’ literally translated as ‘Fly Naked’( “Vuela en cuero,” in Spanish).


When American fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken opened their first restaurant in Beijing in 1987, they accidentally translated KFC's famous slogan, “Finger-lickin' good” to “We'll Eat Your Fingers Off!” in Chinese.


Puffs brand tissues are quite popular in the U.S. A., however, their quest for global marketing ran into a few snags due to their name. In Germany, "Puff" is a colloquial term for a whorehouse. In England, a similar word,“Pouf,” is an offensive term for homosexual.


In 2006, hair care company Clairol introduced a curling iron called the Mist Stick, which did very well in U.S. markets. When the company marketed the product in Germany, however, they failed to realize that “mist” means “manure” in German. Oddly enough, the “Manure Stick” didn't sell so well in Germany.

When it comes to global marketing, a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work. Getting it right involves taking complex cultural considerations into account, as well as ensuring that your messaging is faithfully recreated by translators with in depth local knowledge.


Source: K-international, oddee.com


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