Translations Gone Bad – Research Before Exporting

There are examples all over the internet, old and NEW, of bad decisions and poor planning that lead to embarrassing and unsuccessful launches of products and companies into foreign markets. 99% of these issues could have been avoided by either doing a little market and brand name research prior to launch, becoming familiar with the norms, culture and slang of your new market, or using a professional language service provider (LSP) who could have caught issues and made suggestions prior to exporting.

We hope you enjoy (and learn from) the following hilarious, and disastrous, stories.

CIER-Translation-Goof.jpgExpanding into China can be difficult:

  • When Mercedes-Benz wanted to expand into China they tried using the brand name “Bensi.” They quickly learned that they weren’t selling many cars because “Bensi” translates as “rush to die.” Not a great name for inspiring sales!

  • Another car brand that had issues in China was Peugeot. In Mandarin the spoken name of Peugeot, Biao Zhi, means “handsome,” but in the dialect of southern China, Biao Zhi sounds much more like the word for “prostitute.” Not the image Peugeot was shooting for.

  • When Coca-Cola expanded into China, they failed to realize that their brand name translation meant “bite the wax tadpole” in many areas. And in some areas, it translated into “female horse stuffed with wax.” Neither inspire one to want to drink the beverage.

  • Pepsi Cola did not expand into China unscathed either. When they had their US tagline “Pepsi Brings you back to Life” translated, the Chinese version actually read “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” I don’t think Pepsi intended on starting any zombie rumors, do you?

  • It’s not just translation that can go wrong in China. When Fiat tried to use actor Richard Gere in advertisements for their Lancia Delta car, the campaign didn’t go over too well, it even resulted in a huge explosion of online comments about how people “would never buy a Fiat.” When Fiat researched why the campaign got such a negative reaction, they discovered Richard Gere is hated by MANY Chinese people because of his support for the Dalai Lama. Oops! Big oops!


Translations into Spanish must be straightforward, right? Not always:

  • When Braniff International Airlines translated their “Fly in Leather” tagline to Spanish, it actually read “Fly Naked.” I don’t think that was the exposure Braniff was looking for.

  • Nokia should have tested the brand name for its Lumia phone before releasing it into Spanish-speaking markets. Lumia means “prostitute” in Spanish. I wonder if they called Peugeot to commiserate about that particularly unfortunate translation.

  • When Mitsubishi marketed its Pajero in Spain, they were embarrassed to discover too late that Pajero is slang for “wanker” or “masturbator.” I think it goes without saying that the men of Spain weren’t lined up to purchase one.

  • American Motors also had trouble with a model name when they attempted to market the Matador in Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico. Instead of conjuring up images of strength and courage, the word matador translated into “killer.” This translation didn’t instill much confidence in the consumers of the small island. Car companies seem to be on this list a lot, they should learn from each other’s mistakes (or call Rapport International to do some market testing for them)!

How Much Does Translation Cost? FIND OUT!

German slang can be tough:

  • When Clairol launched their curling iron called the “Mist Stick” in Germany, they must have forgotten to do their research. Mist is the slang word for manure in German. Not many women wanted to use a manure stick on their hair.

  • Then Puff’s started marketing their tissues in Germany, they too were taken down by German slang. In German, puff is slang for “brothel.” I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’d want to use a tissue named brothel to blow my nose.

  • Another victim of German slang was Vicks. When they introduced their branded cough drops into Germany they did not realize the a “v” is pronounced like a “f” in German, thus making their brand name equal to the slang for sexual intercourse. Seems like Germans love slangs!

I could go on and on with these examples. Just do a Google search for “bad translation” and have some fun reading, then pick up the phone or click over to Rapport International to consult with a professional so that you’re not the next “hilarious” story about translations going wrong.

Have questions? Contact Us 

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate. We use the right voice and the correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. With our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right. Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote.

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