Welcome to Overthrow Digital's blog where we share our thoughts and ramblings on anything and everything to do with the world of digital communications.
Written by:
Joachim Treasurer

5 Times Brands Got Seriously Lost In Translation

Many of our clients are internationally renowned brands. With this comes the necessity for brand messaging and communications to be appropriately translated into the languages of the country that the brand is looking to grow into. We use trusted translators that have offices all over the world and recognise the importance of understanding the particular message the brands we work with want to convey. Alas, some companies out there still think it is enough to simply put your latest press release into Google translate (it isn't).

The English language, compared to many others in the world, is actually far simpler to understand and translate. However, when you take languages such as Spanish or Chinese, thousands of words mean completely different things if used in one concept, compared to another. The wrong use of one word can completely wreck your message and thus seriously ruin your reputation in that specific market. This week we decided to list 5 times brands that just completely screwed up their translations. There are some big ones in there.


1. Parker Pens


We’re going to start with probably the most famous case of a brand message being lost in translation. The most famous pen brand in the world, Parker Pens, aiming to break into Latin America in 1995, decided to modify their already successful slogan of ‘Avoid embarrassment, use Parker Pens’ to ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. The only problem was that the word they used, embarazar, we can only assume thinking it meant embarrass, actually means pregnant giving the impression that Parker Pens do not actually make you pregnant. At least they cleared up the fact that their pens don’t produce babies.


2. Clairol


American companies seem to be the biggest offenders when it comes to translation mishaps. Clairol’s Mist Stick curling iron, while extremely popular in the States failed to create the same buzz in Germany. It wasn’t until Clairol dug a bit deeper when they found that when translated into German mist in fact means manure. Maybe they should have marketed the product to the equestrian industry.


3. Wang Computers


Only us Brits will get this one. When Wang decided to show the UK population just how much of a caring company they really are, they thought of the ingeniously simple marketing slogan of ‘Wang Cares’. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out just what this sounds like and the UK retailers saw it fast. Not about to start calling their customer base ‘wankers’ the UK retailer refused to use the slogan. Bankers.


4. Orange


This was one of the most famous marketing slogans in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. We all know it… ‘The future’s bright, the future’s Orange’. Seems harmless enough right? Well, not in Northern Ireland, where the Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal organisation, essentially making the statement that; “The future’s bright, the future’s Protestant and loyalist.” This didn’t go down particularly well with the large Irish Catholic population.


5. Panasonic / Mitsubishi


We all remember Woody Woodpecker, the adorable American woodpecker. He was so popular that in 1996 Japanese technology giants Mitsubishi and Panasonic decided to use him as the spokesman for a new Internet browser that Panasonic had created for the new Mitsubishi computer. Actually quite groundbreaking at the time of conception, the computer featured a touch pad that you could use to navigate, all the while Woody would be your online helper. Not so ingenious was the slogan used to promote the product – Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.

Marketing folklore has it that it was only until an American executive, who had not previously seen the slogan, alerted the heads to why the whole room was in stitches at the internal unveiling that they decided to completely pull the campaign… one day before the launch.

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