Shocking Translation Fails in Advertising


Knowing your market from A to Z is a common challenge that most businesses face today. It can lead to disastrous consequences and brand failure if you do not have an understanding of your customers and their cultural norms. When planning to take your brand and its advertising campaign overseas, it’s essential that you culturally adapt your content. Do not only learn about the terminology of a specific language, but also the country’s typical values and set of expectations. This way, you avoid facing a translation gone wrong.

Even numerous international brands have suffered the consequences of a bad translation throughout their advertising campaigns. In this article, we take a look at the biggest and most embarrassing translation fails in advertising history…

The first Coca-Cola advertising campaign in China went horribly wrong. The company decided to translate its name into “Kekoukela”, which in some dialects literally means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”. Finally however, the company decided to use “Kekoukele”, meaning “happiness in the mouth”.


Pepsi was criticized and accused of being disrespectful of Chinese culture and its deceased when the company wrongly translated its ad slogan. “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” was translated into a sentence that sounded a lot like “Pepsi Brings Your
Relatives Back from the Dead”.


When the fast-food chain launched its campaign in Beijing, the company faced a setback due to a failure of its advertising campaign. Why? Its slogan “Finger-Lickin’ good” was embarrassingly translated to “Eat your fingers off”, which made customers reluctant to eat the chain’s food.


Swedish vacuum cleaner company, Electrolux translated its slogan to “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” when it entered the U.S market. While it was grammatically correct, the meaning behind this slogan did not mean well at all, especially in terms of the slang word “sucks”.


When renowned Japanese car manufacturer, Mitsubishi launched its 4X4 Pajero model in Spanish-speaking countries, it didn’t have quite the same effect as it did in other nations. Funnily enough, “pajero” in Spanish means something quite sexually crude. After learning about the word’s sexual connotation, the company decided to change the vehicle’s name for its Spanish market by calling it “Mitsubishi Montero” instead.


When the German carmaker decided to enter the Chinese market, it translated its iconic name which resulted with the word “Bensi”. Ironically, this means “rush to die” in Chinese! After a few changes, the brand became “Benchi” which means to “run quickly as if flying.”

Parker Pen

“It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” is the slogan Parker Pen wanted to use abroad. In the Mexican market, the translation wrongly came across as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”, because of the false friend “to embarrass” which sounds like “embarazar”, which means “to be pregnant”. Oops!

American Airlines

When the airline decided to show-off its leather first-class seats in Mexico, the campaign failed to attract keen clients. There’s no wonder why! Its original slogan “Fly in Leather” was falsely translated to “Vuela in Cuerco”, which means “Fly naked”.

Turns out, prestigious brands also make major translation errors. These are perfect examples of how small localization mistakes can affect the overall brand message and even its sales! In addition, these can be extremely embarrassing and costly mistakes. It ultimately proves just how important it is to adapt your content to the culture of your target market.

A great way to end this article is with this touching quote by Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
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When Translation Goes Wrong


Translation isn’t as simple as many assume. It’s not just a matter of changing each word from the source text into the target language. It involves understanding and rewording the context, the syntax, idioms and any other important linguistic components.

The process can often throw up major translation mistakes – some funny and others not so much. From advertising blunders to life-threatening errors, here are a few infamous moments when translation went terribly wrong. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry…

Eat Your Fingers Off

KFC wanted their customers to enjoy their fried chicken a little too much back in 1987. When Colonel Sanders launched his very first mainland China KFC outlet, the company’s famous slogan – “Finger Lickin’ Good” – was catastrophically translated into Mandarin as “Eat Your Fingers Off.” Not so appetizing, eh? In these hyper-litigious days, I’m sure KFC would have been hit by a few lawsuits had their customers taken that phrase literally! Luckily, the mistranslated slogan didn’t doom the brand. It was quickly changed and today there are over 900 KFC restaurants in China.

A Medical Mistake

In Willie Ramirez’ case, a simple language barrier had tragic consequences. The 18-year-old had been admitted to a Florida hospital in 1980 in a comatose state. His family and friends were convinced that he had suffered food poisoning, but had struggled to describe his condition to doctors as they only spoke Spanish. A member of staff heard the word “intoxicado” and that’s when things started to go badly wrong. These two words may sound similar but have very different meanings in the two languages – poisoned in Spanish and under the influence of drugs or alcohol in English. The doctors proceeded to treat Ramirez as though he was suffering from a drug overdose and only later discovered that he was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage. The misdiagnosis and delay in treatment sadly left Ramirez quadriplegic. A resulting lawsuit ended in a settlement of $71 million.

American Dia-Beer

Here’s a super embarrassing example of a marketing translation gone wrong. Most businesses want to make a good first impression when expanding their campaign to a new country. American beer brand Coors didn’t exactly start off on the right foot in Spain. Their “Turn It Loose” tagline – when translated into Spanish – became “Suffer From Diarrhea.” No thanks! Sometimes you’ve got to laugh!

A Biblical Blunder

Ever wondered why Michelangelo’s infamous sculpture of Moses has horns? Funnily enough, St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, is to blame. When he translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, he made a big-time blunder. In the Bible, Moses is described as having a kind of radiance on his face, or in Hebrew: “karan.” Because Hebrew is written without vowels, St. Jerome read “karan” as “keren,” which can mean “grew horns.” This subtle but significant error influenced several future paintings, sculptures and depictions of Moses, with two horns on his head. St. Jerome’s Latin version of the Bible went on to become the basis for hundreds of successive translations and they too, contained this famous mistake…

As you can see from these examples, translating one language into another can be fraught with difficulty. Translation fails have made us laugh over the years, but they can also have disastrous outcomes. Our advice? As mentioned in our previous blog post about using a skilled translator, it’s best you turn to a professional language translation service – they’ll guarantee to produce an accurate text – with no embarrassing or near-fatal – errors.
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