Big Time Marketing Flops

You are still recovering from Christmas. So, today’s marketing tip is meant more to amuse than to edify.

Be careful when you move your product into a foreign-language market. Thanks to TH for sending us the following. (We haven’t checked them. In fact, we suspect that some of them are apocryphal. But if they aren’t true, we wish they would be.)

  • The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “a female horse stuffed with wax” (depending on the dialect). Coke researched 40,000 Chinese characters and finally found a close phonetic equivalent — ko-kou-ko-le — which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth.”
  • In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
  • In another Chinese translation, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”
  • When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that in Spanish “no va” means “it won’t go.” When the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it re-named the Nova the “Caribe” in its Spanish markets.
  • Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. They discovered that “Pinto” is Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried off the Pinto nameplates and substituted “Corcel,” which means “horse.”
  • Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that translated as “It takes a tough man to make a chicken aroused.”
  • Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as “Gros Jos” before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means “big breasts.” In this case, however, the error in translation did not have a noticeable effect on sales.