Lost in translation - top six international branding mistakes

Today is International Translation Day. In our day to day work we’ve come across some great examples of international marketing blunders, where a poor tranlsation can mean something totally different.

Obviously we’re not going to share any client errors because all our clients are perfect! ? So we’ve scoured the internet to find some of the biggest, and frankly comical, translation-related marketing mistakes in history.

Late in the 1980’s Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC as it is more affectionately known, made its first foray into the Asian market, starting with China. Unfortunately, KFC’s famous slogan – ‘Finger-Lickin’ Good’ – didn’t translate well, and KFC China’s signs were adorned with the phrase – ‘Eat Your Fingers Off’.

Today, we have artificial intelligence on our smartphones and computers that can translate the toughest of phrases into any language within milliseconds, along with the ability to have a conversation with someone on the other side of the world at the drop of a hat. Our world is growing increasingly smaller each year as technology advances and makes communication between countries and cultures easier and more accessible by the day. However, it hasn’t always been like that…



Back in 1986 US based Braniff Airlines, wanted to flaunt their brand-new, top of the range leather aeroplane seats to their customers, with the subtle and smooth tagline – ‘Fly in Leather’. The campaign was a hit with every market except their Spanish speaking customers, as ‘Fly in Leather’ can be translated to ‘Fly Naked’, something which Braniff Airlines certainly didn’t want to encourage



A breakdown in communication doesn’t always have to include poorly translated words, sometimes different cultures are misunderstood. Since they began operations in 1928, US baby food manufacturer, Gerber, has featured a delightful baby on their product labels. But when Gerber branched out to the African market, this label become quite the cause for concern. In African countries, labels depict images of what the consumer will find within the tin; therefore, it seemed as if Gerber was selling, quite literally, babies in a can. Needless to say, it was not an instant bestseller.



Parker Pens’ expansion into Mexico was met with a significant amount of confusion. They thought it was a good idea to use their strapline globally to sell to the masses – it was simple and straightforward – ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. Unfortunately for Parker Pens, it was translated into ‘It won’t leak into your pocket and make you pregnant’. So close, yet so far…


Even automobile giant Mercedes-Benz isn’t safe from a branding mishap in their history. When they announced themselves into the Chinese market with a new name, it wasn’t met with the desired reaction. Mercedes-Benz allocated themselves the name ‘Bensi’ for their Chinese operations which translates to ‘rush to die’. Needless to say, not many cars were sold until they underwent an extensive rebrand.



Pepsi struck fear into the hearts of millions of Chinese customers when debuted a new slogan – ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’. However, this didn’t quite translate correctly in Chinese, as Pepsi’s new campaign was headed with the phrase – ‘Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave’, which is quite a bold, and ultimately false, claim.



In the ‘90s, Panasonic wanted to unveil a web-ready PC to the masses in Japan. To give sales a boost, they secured the rights to beloved character Woody the Woodpecker and created a Woody theme for the PC’s, and an unfortunate name for the PC was born – Touch Woody: The Internet Pecker. This wasn’t even a breakdown in communication or translation, but simply evidence that context is everything and sometimes you may need some feedback before settling on a name!

As more companies pay attention to their branding efforts, there are significantly fewer marketing blunders. This is mainly attributed to employing experts that have a keen eye for potential communication, cultural and translation issues, as well as having more tools at your disposal to avoid any mistakes.

Businesses and industries have only benefitted from the ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, and for this, we celebrate International Translation Day.

If you’re looking for help with your branding or rebranding efforts – strategy, engineering or  implementation, our multi-cultural and multi-lingual team is here to help. We work globally but deliver locally to guide your business, and hopefully avoid any lost-in-translation mistakes!

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