Multimillion Companies Lost in Translation

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Expanding to international markets creates unlimited opportunities of growth to businesses. Expanding companies must know that communication in international markets should be conducted carefully. Whether you are a small company or a multimillion company no one is immune to mistakes they always happen. Unintended issues might arise in terms o language and interpretation of words that could represent a great cost; off course the cost and humiliation varies with the size of your company.


Pepsi represents a great example of marketing going wrong when they came up with their new slogan “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation” in the 1960’s. The slogan was a big success in the western world but not in China where it was mistranslated to a horrifying meaning in both Mandarin and Cantonese “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead!”

Unfortunately many brands fall into the same mistake. Kentucky fried chicken KFC when opening their first franchise in Beijing, China in the 1980’s translated their slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” to a not very appetizing slogan “Eat your fingers off”. This mistake didn’t seem to harm the brand image in China since KFC is considered the number one fast food chain in China.


You must be blaming the Chinese language for being so hard to translate to but the same mistake happened with Ford the giant auto maker when they tried to introduce their campaign “Every car has a high-quality body.” That emphasizes on their cars excellent manufacturing to Belgium. The campaign was translated to “Every car has a high-quality corpse” scary!


Mitsubishi on the other hand failed in a humorous way when they launched their new 4-wheel drive vehicle “Pajero” in Spain without knowing that “Pajero” means, “jerk” in Spanish! Mitsubishi resolved this issue by changing the name to “Montero”.

Companies must be careful not to fall into the same mistakes when perusing international markets. Reaching locals to help translate the slogans would be the best approach. Furthermore, coming up with a new slogan that has the same message in a way that locals can relate to would have a greater impact.

How could big brands like Pepsi, KFC, Ford and Mitsubishi fail in translation? Who should the company blame for such a mistake? Should the company blame the marketing team for not taking the time to study all aspects of the market before the launch or the brand representatives in the foreign country for not noticing such mistakes?

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1 thought on “Multimillion Companies Lost in Translation”

  1. It should be more surprising that this happens to companies all of the time! No matter how much research and testing goes into a campaign, something like this will surface.

    We had a similar situation with my company. We photoshopped bull horns onto a piece of medical equipment and tried to drive home the idea of “grabbing the bull by the horns”. The ad was very powerful, but we didn’t know that in one of the Latin-American companies, the bull is a symbol for adulterer!


    Great blog post!

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