Unforgettable errors in the translation of marketing texts

Published on 12/11/2020

Translation errors in the marketing sector are a good example of what is best to avoid in order not to seriously harm the development of brands and companies abroad.

The literal translation of brands or advertising slogans can have serious consequences on the corporate image. There are many such translation errors in the marketing industry today and we wanted to share some of the funniest ones on this blog.

The following should motivate any company to be vigilant in its marketing campaigns that require a good translation. It is better to pay for a quality, professional and culturally appropriate translation for the target market.

1. Simpler airplane flights: translation to be reviewed

Simpler airplane flights translation to be reviewed

Airlines should be able to adapt their commercial communications to the countries they serve, but this is not always the case.

In 1987, for example, the U.S. airline Braniff Airlines was too eager to promote its new leather seats: so "Fly in leather" literally became “Vuela en cuero" in its Spanish-language campaigns for Latin America. It looks like they incited their customers to fly naked! The antithesis of a successful professional translation!

2. Unpleasant products due to lack of good translations

Unpleasant products due to lack of good translations

When Schweppes decided to launch his famous tonic drink on the Italian market, a somewhat too literal translation sold "Schweppes toilet water" instead of "tonic water". Unfortunately, Schweppes toilet water does not sell as well as Schweppes tonic water.

The famous American fast food chain KFC also had a hard time establishing itself in the Chinese market in 1987. Their slogan "Finger lickin' good" became "Eat your fingers" in Mandarin. A professional quality translation would have avoided this disaster. This proves, should it need to be proved, that even large companies can fall into translation errors.

3. Without a good translation, appliances "suck" a little

Without a good translation, appliances "suck" a little

You probably know the case of the Swedish household appliance manufacturer Electrolux, which in the 1970s ran a marketing campaign with the slogan "Nothing sucks like Electrolux".

Obviously, the company was not looking for that result, it simply wanted to announce that nothing sucks as well as an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. "It sucks", which means "it stinks" or "it's a mess" in American English, meant absolutely nothing to the British back then, where the company wanted to develop.

The most surprising thing is that this campaign was designed by a British advertising agency and it was only the Americans who thought the campaign was a complete failure.

4. A $10 million marketing translation error


In 2009, the British bank HSBC had to assume a translation error in relation to its campaign around the words "Assume Nothing" which were mistranslated in many languages as "Do Nothing".

This mistake cost him a lot of money, since the bank had to invest $10 million in a new campaign, that in addition to restoring its image. All themore reason to trust a professional translation agency like AbroadLink Translations so that such errors do not occur.

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Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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