Translation Blunders 

Don't Let This Happen To You

  • Mistranslated Greeting for Olympic Spectators

    In efforts to welcome visitors to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, a local shopping center displayed welcome banners and t-shirts that read “Welcome to London” in languages from all over the world.  However, the Arabic banner didn’t come out exactly as planned.  The Council for Arab-British Understanding said the Westfield Stratford Shopping Center message was backwards and spaced inaccurately in Arabic. An English equivalent of the sign and staff t-shirts would read something like "N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W".  Westfield apologized and reprinted the welcome messages.

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red button that said "Reset" in English and "Peregruzka" in Russian; however, "peregruzka" actually means overcharged.   

  • A t-shirt manufacturer in Miami printed shirts in Spanish to commemorate the Pope’s visit. By referring to the Pontiff as “la papa” instead of “el Papa”, their shirts read: “I saw the potato.”
  • A local company sent us a translation for proofing. The phrase was to be printed on baby bibs that, in English, said: “I am the baby brother.” Fortunately, we were able to steer them away from the translation they had done in house: “Soy el bebé de mi hermano” which would have meant literally, “I am the baby of my brother.”
  • Another local company ran into trouble when they were in a rush to get a brochure out to the printers. They needed the line: "Healthy Kids Day" for the front cover. Thinking the free online translation services would help, they published the brochure with the translation that came from Babel Fish - but it said: "Dia Sano De los Cabritos" - which, much to their dismay turns out to be something close to: Health Day of the Baby Goats.
  • When translated into Chinese, Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" became "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave."
  • Not to be outdone in gaffes, Coca Cola’s name in China was first read as “Ke-kou-ke-la” meaning “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax,” depending on the dialect. Coke eventually found a phonetic equivalent translating more pleasantly into “happiness in the mouth.”
  • Coors slogan, "Turn it loose," in Spanish became "suffer from diarrhea."
  • Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux once launched an American ad campaign by proclaiming, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
  • Clairol introduced its "Mist Stick" curling iron to the German market; then discovered that "mist" is slang for manure.
  • In 1987, Colonel Sanders set up his first mainland China KFC outlet. Their famous “finger-lickin’ good” was set into Chinese characters that meant “eat your fingers off.” That was quickly changed and today there are over 900 KFC restaurants in China.

Advertising Cultural Blunders

Excerpted from : Mac and PC's Overseas Adventures
Globalizing Apple's Ads Meant Tweaking Characters, Clothing and Body Language

By: GEOFFREY A. FOWLER in Hong Kong,
BRIAN STEINBERG in New York,
AARON O. PATRICK in London

* Miho Inada in Tokyo contributed to this article.

When Apple Inc. wanted to bring its series of “Mac vs. PC” ads to international markets, it faced a difficult issue: What's funny in one culture can seem ill-mannered in another.

In the American ads, made by Omnicom Group Inc.'s TBWA\Chiat\Day, a nerdy PC guy keeps getting trumped by his hip Mac counterpart, who uses pointed banter that demonstrates how Macs are better. In one recent spot, PC is proudly having a camera taped to his head so he can do video chatting ~ only to discover that Mac already has a built-in camera. In another, PC is flanked by a gruff security guard who insists on getting his permission each time Mac tries to say something to him, meant to represent security in Microsoft's new Vista operating system for PCs.

But in Japanese culture, where direct-comparison ads have long been frowned upon, it's rude to brag about one's strengths. So for Japanese versions of the ads that rolled out last fall, two local comedians from a troupe called the Rahmens made subtle changes to emphasize that Macs and PCs are not that different. Instead of clothes that cast PC clearly as a nerd and Mac as a hipster, PC wears plain office attire and Mac weekend fashion, highlighting the work/home divide between the devices more than personality differences. In the first ad of the series, Mac even gives PC a nickname: waaku — a playful Japanese version of the word “work.”

PC's body language is a big source of the humor in Japan: Mac looks embarrassed when the PC touches his shoulder, or hides behind Mac's legs to avoid viruses. "PC constantly makes friendship-level approaches that Mac rejects in a friendly-irritated way," says Oliver Reichenstein, the founder of Tokyo-based interactive brand consultancy Information Architects Ltd. "The western Mac ads would backfire in Japan, because the Mac would appear to lack class."

The international campaigns reflect a growing move by U.S. companies to refine their ad campaigns for overseas markets. With more businesses looking to tap into consumer bases in international markets, navigating cultural differences can require a subtle touch. Starting with a basic concept then tailoring it to individual areas works better than ‘just buying one ad or one picture and repeating it slavishly in every country around the world,” says Toby Hoare, chief executive of WPP Group PLC's JWT Europe, who oversees a global ad account for HSBC Holdings. “What we don't say is, ‘One size fits all.’”


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