Did you know that there are 3,770 English idiomatic expressions? I’m talking about “it’s raining cats and dogs” and “Jack-of-all-trades” sorts of expressions that we use at the drop of a hat without giving it a second thought (see what I did there?). They work great in English to get your point across, but they rarely translate exactly how we intend them to be spoken in other languages.
Companies sometimes forget about translations when they bring their products overseas to countries where other languages besides English are spoken on a daily basis. Companies have experienced a few blunders over the years that will make you cringe at their lack of research. However, are they myths or did these mishaps really happen? I’ve found a few that may surprise you…
Yep, These Really Happened
You hear ‘Kia’ and images of break dancing hamsters come to mind, right? Or maybe an awesome dream sequence complete with Motley Crue and Adriana Lima? Well for those who lived during “the troubles” of 1963 to 1985 in the Republic of Ireland and England, Kia’s latest concept car the Provo has a completely different meaning than what was intended.
For a quick history lesson, the Provo was the street name for the Provisional Irish Republic Army who were a very violent group that was blamed for almost 2,000 deaths during this time frame. Gregory Campbell, a member of Parliament from Northern Ireland’s E. Derry proposed a bill asking Kia to not name and sell a car with the Provo name. Kia realizing their mistake immediately promised not to use the name on a product vehicle and will not use it when selling the car in the British isles. A+ for realizing their mistake and fixing it as soon as possible rather than just sitting back and seeing how it played out.
Barf Laundry Detergent
Don’t get the wrong idea that companies only have trouble translating their slogans from English to other languages, the door swings both ways. The finest example to show this point is the very popular Middle Eastern laundry detergent named Barf. I know the idea of washing your clothes with Barf instead of Tide or Gain makes you gag, but in Farsi “barf” means “snow” and is therefore acceptable for this product to exist and be advertised. Let’s quickly move on before I give this concept too much thought and lose my lunch!
After a long day or week working there’s nothing wrong with going home and popping the lid off a bottle of ice-cold beer. However, if your slogan for your beer is “suffer from diarrhea,” you probably aren’t going to be selling cases upon cases of your beer. Who would make such a silly mistake? That would be Coors.
Their slogan here in the states was a very non-controversial “turn it loose” tagline. Once translated into Spanish was when, well, sh*t hit the fan. It’s a very honest mistake indeed, but a costly one when it came to their sales in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, because who’d want to enjoy a beer if that’s the consequence?
Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Who Knows?
Saying good-bye to a loved one forever is hard, but imagine if a brand came to you with the slogan, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Dead!” Would you buy up as many cans as you could or begin a strong loyalty with its competitor? Now this story has never been confirmed or denied to have happened, but it sure makes you wonder, right?
How could it never be confirmed? Well, for one Pepsi has stayed ‘mum’ on the situation and since the details are sketchy at best, it’s hard to say one way or another. Which portion of the Chinese market did it get lost in translation? Those areas that speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or some other dialect? For some reason nobody really knows. The debate rages on with this slogan slip-up!
As Real as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny
General Motors’ Chevrolet Nova
Truth time: I knew of Chevy’s Nova example before writing this blog and had it all ready to go until I researched it a bit more to get my facts straight and instead found this example to be a myth! For those who don’t know this example, here’s how many know it: the Chevrolet Nova was sold in Mexico and several other Spanish-speaking countries between 1972 and 1978 and sales were dismal because “no va” translates to “doesn’t go” and who buys a car that means you can’t go zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds?
Well, this example has quite a few points that are never mentioned which give it a whole new light. First of all, “no va” can be translated to “no go”, but a Spanish speaker wouldn’t use it in reference to a car. In English we would say that if a car is broken-down it “doesn’t run” rather than it “doesn’t go”, right? This applies to Spanish too. They would say “no funciona” or “no camina” rather than “no va”.
Secondly, Pemex (the Mexican government-owned oil monopoly) sold gasoline in Mexico and did back in the 1970’s as well, under the name “Nova” which was a leaded gasoline. So, putting two and two together, Mexicans would associate the Chevy Nova with this gasoline. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know but it’d be like if a Ford made a car model named the ‘Premium’ and people would be worried we’d associate it with saltine crackers because they share the same name. Silly, right?
There you have it! Five of the best examples of slogans lost in translation, some truthful and some as truthful as being caught with your hand in the cookie jar and trying to lie about it.
Have you heard of any of these before? Did one surprise you at all? Do you have another example that always makes you crack up? Shout off below in the comments!
Homer Simpson cover photo courtesy of: knowyourmeme.com
Chevy Nova picture courtesy of: France1978