The worst translation mistakes by brands

Published on 02/02/2024

Translation is a delicate art that requires a deep understanding of languages and cultures. However, even the most experienced translators can sometimes make embarrassing mistakes that can completely change the meaning of a message. In this article, we will explore some of the worst translation errors in history, from humorous blunders to more serious consequences.

The Chevrolet "Nova" in Latin America

When General Motors introduced the Chevrolet Nova to the Latin American market, they quickly discovered a translation error that had commercial repercussions for the brand. In Spanish, "No va" means "does not work". Consumers interpreted this as the car having mechanical problems, resulting in disappointing sales. A simple cultural understanding could have prevented this situation.

The KFC campaign in China: "Finger-lickin' good"

When KFC launched its "Finger-lickin' good" campaign in China, the slogan was literally translated into Chinese as "Eat your fingers, they are delicious". The idea of licking your fingers after eating was not a Chinese food custom, and the campaign had to be modified to fit local cultural standards.

The Bible in Iceland

In 2007, an Icelandic edition of the Bible was published with a major translation error. Instead of translating "Thou shalt not commit adultery" correctly, the Icelandic version said "Thou shalt not kill". This error sparked criticism and mockery, highlighting the crucial importance of accuracy in the translation of sacred texts.

The name Pepsi in China

When Pepsi was introduced in China, the name was translated into Chinese phonetically, which resulted in "Bao Bei", literally meaning "Precious Generation." However, this was misinterpreted by Chinese consumers as "Death of father", thus creating a negative image of the product.  In addition to this problem, Pepsi also had issues with its slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation". Translated into English, it was interpreted as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave". The need for a deep cultural understanding is evident in these cases.

Coca-Cola in China

When Coca-Cola was first introduced in China, the name was translated into Chinese phonetically as "Kekoukela". Unfortunately, this literally means "biting a wax tadpole". Finally, the company had to change the translation to "可口可乐" (Kěkǒu kělè), which means "happiness in the mouth". As you can see, China has experienced numerous translation errors. This can be explained by the fact that Chinese is one of the most complicated languages to translate.

IKEA in Thailand

When IKEA opened a store in Thailand, the company named a set of coffee cups "Slätten". However, in Thai, this name sounds like "dead" or "deceased", which raised concerns and led to a name change to avoid any negative connotations.

Ford Pinto in Brazil

The name "Pinto" in Portuguese is a colloquial expression for the male genitalia. Ford had to rename the model to avoid any misunderstanding.


These examples illustrate the critical importance of translation. Translation errors can not only be confusing, but also have significant financial and cultural repercussions. Translators must be aware of linguistic and cultural nuances to ensure that the original message is accurately preserved. In the end, these errors highlight the need to invest in professional and competent translation services to avoid embarrassing and costly situations. Therefore, we advise you to use the services of translation agencies like ours.

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Emeline PADIEU's picture
Emeline PADIEU

Emeline holds a Master's degree in Applied Foreign Languages, specialising in International Management and International Trade Techniques. She completed her end-of-studies internship at AbroadLink Translations and now works there as a sales and marketing assistant

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