Translation Horror Stories: How Small Errors Can Lead to Scary Consequences

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For many businesses, globalization can be an overwhelming task. Ensuring that brand colors, imagery, and messaging will resonate with markets around the world can be daunting. And any error in the process can cause significant damage to brand reputation.

Despite best efforts to translate their content, some brands have made localization missteps with costly consequences. Here are a few of their horror stories.

Auto manufacturers provide deadly model name translations

mercedes-rush-to-dieMercedes-Benz famously entered the Chinese market under the brand name “Bensi,” meaning “rush to die” in the local language. That’s probably not what you want to think about as you get in their car.

american-motors-matadorSimilarly, American Motors launched its new midsize car, “the Matador,” in the early 1970s in Puerto Rico. The name was intended to convey courage and strength. But in Spanish, “Matador” means killer. And in a location filled with hazardous roads, it did not instill confidence in drivers.

Distasteful tagline translations in the food and beverage industry

While you might think that the consistent use of imagery would carry clear brand messages, some companies have overlooked the importance of localizing their supporting taglines.

In the 1960’s, Pepsi expanded into China with the slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi.” Unfortunately, this translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” Needless to say, this particular campaign quickly met its own death.

Schweppes also suffered a product name mistranslation when it launched “tonic water” into the Italian market without realizing that the name translated to “Schweppes Toilet Water.”

While these mistakes may seem comical in retrospect, they can alienate customers and ruin brand reputation around the world. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the details, utilize professional translation services, and have in-market resources review content before it’s deployed globally.

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