Mar 16, 2011

Market Research Faux Pas: 5 Examples of Being Lost in Translations

In the fields of marketing and advertising, ignorance is not bliss — it’s expensive. There’s nothing worse than spending massive amounts of advertising dollars on a campaign or product launch only to cancel the campaign or pull the product — not to mention the PR nightmares that ensue afterward.

Recently, our team engaged in a discussion about some of the craziest market research “oopsies” — specifically ones that involve language barriers and meanings that are lost in translation — that resulted in major advertising FAILS.

**WARNING: This blog features content suitable only for adults! The opinions of this blogger do not represent the opinions of LEAP.**


#1: In the mid-1990s, Reebok creative executives came up with the perfect name for their newest line of women’s running shoe: INCUBUS. Unfortunately, the word “Incubus” is used to describe a mythical demon that fornicates with women in their sleep. Whoops!


#2: In 2003, Irish Mist Liqueur introduced its delicious brand in Germany. The only problem was that consumers there used the term “mist” as slang for excrement/manure. Nicht gut!


#3: In the late-1980s, Kentucky Fried Chicken moved its “finger lickin’ good” brand to Beijing, China. There were no traditional American fast-food restaurants on the mainland so it seemed like a great gig for them … except their ad slogan, when translated into Chinese characters, read “Eat Your Fingers Off.” Ouch!


#4: In 1991, Locum, a Swedish medical company, sent Christmas cards to all of their customers. Their logo treatment included lowercase lettering and a heart in place of the “o.” When the cards were sent to Americans, the appearance of their logo appeared to represent a much different message than intended. Fail!


#5: In 1977-78, Braniff Airlines, partnered with American Airlines, launched an advertising campaign to promote their new leather first-class seating, with the slogan “Fly in Leather.” However, upon launch in Mexico, they (embarrassingly) mistranslated their slogan into the Spanish equivalency of “Fly Naked” (“Vuela en Cueros”). No bueno!


Some people debate that these blunders were semi-purposeful in an effort to create buzz and draw attention to the brands. While that theory is unlikely for everyone except Braniff/American Airlines, these are several reasons why market research should be conducted before launching international advertising campaigns.

As Americans, we constantly develop strange slang terms or experience the effects of innuendo-filled terminology — but, as marketers and advertisers, it’s better to be safe than sorry … and without a job!


[Post contributed by Emily Carroll]