Top Five Translation Blunders

Language Faux Pas25 February 20143.2k

Multinational companies are always looking to engage and interact with consumers in fresh and exciting ways.

Creating imaginative slogans, thought provoking TV adverts and running social media competitions are all well-established methods of getting the attention of potential customers, regardless of their native language.

However, consistent brand messaging in different regions is essential if firms wants to successfully launch a product or service. Marketing and cultural miscalculations can have serious repercussions, as they often lead to reputational damage and lost revenue. Regaining the trust of local consumers and governments may prove to be tricky.

Bearing this in mind, let's have a look at five cases of translations that have left marketers looking red faced.

Sri Lankan government
What can go wrong when you're translating official notices and documents into the language of the minority Tamil community? Well, quite a lot actually, as the Sri Lankan government found out. Officials were forced to apologize after a sign reading 'Reserved for pregnant mothers' in Sinhala and English was mistakenly changed to 'Reserved for pregnant dogs' in Tamil. This obviously caused a lot of embarrassment for all parties involved, with the official excuse being sloppiness, rather than a deliberate attempt to annoy anyone. 

One of the world's biggest drinks manufacturers, Pepsi is always looking for innovative ways to differentiate itself from the competition. However, it bit off more than it could chew with its 'Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation' campaign. When launched in Taiwan, it was discovered this slogan literally translated into 'Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead', which unsurprisingly didn't encourage many Taiwanese people to try the drink. 

The Dairy Association
The group was positively brimming after its 'Got Milk?' campaign got a great response. It was seen as being directly responsible for increasing milk sales in California. However, the body was found guilty of some poor research after an attempt to branch out and give the advertising campaign a try in Mexico, as the Spanish translation – 'Are you lactating?' – was somewhat inappropriate and wasn't well received. 

Westfield Shopping Centre
When the 2012 Olympic Games were on, London retailers were keen to be seen as welcoming as they tried to take advantage of the increase in visitor numbers. However, Westfield Shopping Centre's enthusiasm actually ended up making them look rather silly. The center produced 'Welcome to London' signs in a range of languages, but a mistake in the Arabic translation meant it came out backwards, incorrectly aligned to the left (Arabic scripts should be aligned from right to left) and was spaced inaccurately. This resulted in Arab participants and visitors being greeted to the UK capital with a sign saying 'N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W' (the Latin alphabet equivalent).

American Airlines
When American Airlines decided to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it thought its current 'Fly in Leather' campaign being used in English markets would suffice. However, when translated literally into Spanish it actually meant 'Fly Naked', which presented a somewhat different view of top-end luxury!


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