Can a bad translation hurt a brand? Here are five stories

When we talk about a bad translation, it is because we want to underscore the importance of investing in high-quality translation services. A good translation is much more than a machine translation and is certainly not a literal one. Confused? Well just think back to some of the meaningless machine translations that you have come across or slang expressions translated literally that make no sense at all! Imagine you are a professional translator and say to a native English speaker that you are experienced in the translation of official documents, because you   “have many years turning chickens” you’re going to get some laughs.

In addition to the issue of local slang, you also need to be aware of socio-cultural considerations. This is the only way for brands to avoid embarrassment and even more serious consequences, such as loss of income and even credibility. While in some cases the result might be amusing, the message put across by a bad translation is disregard, a lack of professionalism and ignorance of the target audience. No brand wants to transmit this kind of image. This is why we would like to share some examples of translations that didn’t work out so well.

What a bad translation can do

1. Orange (French telecom company)
It was with the slogan “The future is bright…the future is Orange’, that Orange (a French telecom giant) introduced itself to Northern Ireland. Now, for the people of Northern Ireland, “Orange” is a clear reference to the protestant Orange Order. Since religious differences have often been the source of serious conflicts in Northern Ireland, the slogan was inappropriate and potentially offensive to a lot of people.

2. American Dairy Association
This American association was famous for its catchy slogan “Got milk?” This was how it reached millions of Americans to promote the benefits of dairy products. However, it was a bit of a flop in Mexico. The slogan that they came up with didn’t go down so well as it could be roughly translated as, “Are you breastfeeding?” Oops.

3. Ford cars
In Brazil, the Pinto was the butt of such ridicule that Ford had to change its name. The problem was that in Brazilian Portuguese “pinto” means a penis, and a very small one at that! The last thing that the make wanted was to have one of its cars, especially one aimed at men, associated with something so… belittling!

4. Schweppes
Have you noticed “tonic water” written on Schweppes bottles? The next time you go to Italy, try looking at the bottles there. The thing is that Schweppes had to stop using a literal translation of tonic water, because it meant the water used to flush the toilet!

5. Colgate
It was only after launching a new toothpaste called “Cue” in France that Colgate discovered that it was also the name of a popular French porn magazine. It was a huge joke among the locals. But imagine that investment (branding, packaging, advertising, etc.) all gone to waste!

These are just a few examples from the thousands all over the world. Be warned!