Although sometimes cringe-worthy, examples of global marketing bloopers are a useful means of appreciating that we are not all the same. For any company or business conducting a marketing campaign abroad they must take linguistic and cultural variations seriously.
Below we have provided a top 20 Marketing & Communications Bloopers from across the globe.
1) The Japanese company Matsushita Electric was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created the new web browser and had received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide. The day before the huge marketing campaign, Panasonic realised its error and pulled the plug. Why? The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” The company only realized its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody’s pecker” could be interpreted as!
2) The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks.
3) In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto “Wang Cares”. Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not really give a very positive image to any company.
4) “Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.
5) In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organisations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.
6) Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”.
7) Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it “Honda Jazz”.
8) American Motors tried to market its new car, the Matador, based on the image of courage and strength. However, in Puerto Rico the name means “killer” and was not popular on the hazardous roads in the country.
9) Proctor & Gamble used a television commercial in Japan that was popular in Europe. The ad showed a woman bathing, her husband entering the bathroom and touching her. The Japanese considered this ad an invasion of privacy, inappropriate behaviour, and in very poor taste.
10) Leona Helmsley should have done her homework before she approved a promotion that compared her Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York as comparable to the Taj Mahal–a mausoleum in India.
11) A golf ball manufacturing company packaged golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, pronunciation of the word “four” in Japanese sounds like the word “death” and items packaged in fours are unpopular.
12) Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in Southeast Asia by emphasizing that it “whitens your teeth.” They found out that the local natives chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth which they find attractive.
13) A company advertised eyeglasses in Thailand by featuring a variety of cute animals wearing glasses. The ad was a poor choice since animals are considered to be a form of low life and no self respecting Thai would wear anything worn by animals.
14) The soft drink Fresca was being promoted by a saleswoman in Mexico. She was surprised that her sales pitch was greeted with laughter, and later embarrassed when she learned that fresca is slang for “lesbian.”
15) Kellogg had to rename its Bran Buds cereal in Sweden when it discovered that the name roughly translated to “burned farmer.”
16) When Pepsico advertised Pepsi in Taiwan with the ad “Come Alive With Pepsi” they had no idea that it would be translated into Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”
17) Coors put its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish where its translation was read as “Suffer From Diarrhea.”
18) Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”
19) Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno mag.
20) During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright … the future’s Orange.” That campaign is an advertising legend. However, in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist… didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population.