Lost in translation: 3 myopic marketing mishaps

Lost in translation: 3 myopic marketing mishaps

It takes a marketing strategy that translates ideas – rather than words – to conquer new markets. In any globalisation effort, it is a wise idea to consult a specialised language service provider to determine whether a brand name, logo, or slogan has a different meaning in the regions targeted for expansion.

What happens when one wants to take a company global, but fails to realise that translation is more than simply rendering words? Rather than telling you, we decided to show you. Scroll down and discover three mishaps we found in marketing.

Mamma mia!

The department store chain commonly known as Kmart tried to create a cute Mother’s Day campaign, but was met with outrage from Portuguese and Spanish speakers… So what happened exactly?

The chain decided to make their very own blend of “mama” and “namaste” = “mamaste”, wishing to convey relaxation and a peaceful time to unwind. The result was what you could call an epic fail, since it is a reference to an oral sex act, meaning “to suck”.

Native speakers were quick to call them out for their lack of awareness across social media, pointing out that there are more than 43 million Spanish speakers in the United States, arguing even that the lack of diversity in marketing teams is exactly what leads to fiascos like these.

But it gets worse. In essence, Kmart failed on two fronts in one campaign: Asian speakers were also quick to point out that, when you consider the true meaning of “namaste” (a greeting of respect, rather than a “happy place” or “peace”), you see why the play on words falls short in this case too.

Why did the cannibal cross the road?

Now let’s move on to KFC. In its food court, JFK airport advertised a promo with a tagline saying “you will definitely eat your fingers”. You would think it was a one-time thing, right…?

Wrong! Actually, when Kentucky Fried Chicken entered the Chinese market in the 1980s, becoming the first Western fast food company in the country, “it discovered to its horror that the slogan ‘finger lickin’ good’ came out as ‘eat your fingers off’”. Presumably, an English speaker (with access to a dictionary) came up with this tagline, which is significantly less appetising in Chinese.

An explosive car and an outrageous SUV

These two car models, which we will discuss in a minute, have shocking meanings in Portuguese.

Ford Pinto

Firstly, the Ford Pinto, a subcompact car manufactured in the 1970s. When Ford marketed the model in Brazil, they discovered that “pinto” was Brazilian slang for “small penis”. Naturally, no man wanted to own a “pinto”, so Ford changed the car’s name to Corcel, meaning “horse”.

However, the car company gave up on the idea entirely for two reasons: firstly, because of the high cost of adaptation of the production lines and, more ironically, because of the name.

It seems as though this endeavour was destined to fail, as the car was also highly explosive. Reportedly, when the car had an impact on the back, its weak body would deform, locking the doors, with fuel leaking. If it caught fire, the result was deadly.

Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai Kona, which debuted in June 2017, had its name officially changed to Hyundai Kauai in Portugal. The SUV is called Kona around the globe, including neighbouring Spain, but in Portugal, it is called the Kauai. This is due to the name’s similarity to a vulgar slang for “vagina” in Portuguese.

“Kona” is inspired by Kailua-Kona, a popular tourist area in Hawaii known for its natural beauty and exuberance. Although it is a shame that this word rings a different bell for Portuguese speakers, they were never advertised this model, since the brand thought ahead and defined a successful strategy.

This just goes to show that choosing a reliable localisation partner can be very advantageous, as well as defining a strategy for the brand’s identity. Are you in need of a team that can deliver your product to multiple users around the globe? Enhance your communication with us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *