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Not even large corporations are safe from translation blunders

Companies spend millions, if not billions of dollars, on their ads every year. They spend even more when they come up with a slogan to be used worldwide. And by worldwide we mean beyond the shores of the country or region where they have launched.

Sounds easy, doesn´t it…?


What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Although not everyone knows this, languages are not a formula. There are deeper cultural elements to be considered when translating text, alongside other factors like idioms, adages and wise sayings. Many companies get it wrong when they translate slogans for launching products in other markets.

Surprisingly, this happens not only in small companies or brands but in big ones too. You don’t have to take our word for it. How about we look at some of the epic fails in this category?


Top Fails

The list is endless, but we will only pick out some of the bigger and better known brands and their translation blunders. With that, you know that no one is exempt from taking extra care to ensure their message comes out right on the other side of the world.


1 Pepsi

There was a time when Pepsi was running a campaign with the tagline “Come alive with the Pepsi generation.” This was one of their successful campaigns and they decided to take it to China as well.

In hindsight, they should have thought against that since they ended up telling the Chinese that “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Had that been true, we can only assume their stock would have gone through the roof…


2 American Dairy Association

Almost anytime you hear this brand’s name, the first thing that comes to your mind is the ‘Got Milk?’ slogan that they have paraded around for years. Mexicans won’t find the message as interesting though, since it was translated into ‘Are You Lactating?’ for the Mexican market.



The American bank had been running an ‘Assume Nothing’ campaign for more than five years when they took it abroad – and saw it fail.

Apparently, the message had been misinterpreted to mean ‘Do Nothing’ in other parts of the planet instead. It took a while, and a massive $10 million hit, for the company to rectify this mistake.

This does give the words ‘costly mistake’ a new meaning, don’t you think?


4 Braniff Airlines

In the US, Braniff Airlines advertised a new form of comfort flying with their slogan ‘Fly in Leather.’ Unknown to them, they were losing customers elsewhere since their Mexican potentials were seeing the message as ‘Fly Naked’ instead.

Of course, some flyers might have loved the idea of flying naked. But it wasn´t exactly what the airline had in mind…


Like we said, we could go on and on and never run out of examples. Knowing how costly these translation fails could be for the business – both for its pocket and goodwill – don’t you think more thought should be given to launching of a brand in an entirely new region with a different culture?

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