7 Marketing Fails that Localization Could Have Averted

Some companies have had to learn the hard way about the down side to not using a proper localization service when expanding overseas. A good localization service can help big companies avoid embarrassing translations, failed ad campaigns due to cultural misunderstandings, or damaged sales performance. Transcreation and internationalization are also good tools for companies looking to create content that is culturally appropriate and relevant around the world.

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous localization fails from companies:



1.    HSBC Bank – “Do Nothing”

Back in 2009, HSBC Bank had planned an elaborate expansion of its U.S. marketing slogan, “Assume Nothing.” It had resonated well with American consumers, and executives were looking for that same success among foreign customers. The problem? “Assume Nothing,” didn’t translate exactly as they had hoped, and “Do Nothing,” didn’t sit quite as well with consumers around the world. In the end, HSBC had to start from scratch and spend millions of dollars on another ad campaign.



2.    KFC – “Finger-Lickin’ Good”

Although KFC is one of the most successful and popular fast-food services in China, it didn’t start out like that. Back in the 1980s when the company was first expanding to the Chinese market, they intended to re-purpose their American slogan: “Finger-Lickin’ Good.” However, even fried chicken enthusiasts in China weren’t enticed by the slogan’s translation: “Eat Your Fingers Off.” This mistake could have been avoided simply by using a Chinese translation service.



3.    Ford – “Every Car Has a High-Quality Body”

Oftentimes words in one language don’t have the same connotations or direct meaning in another. This was the case with Ford Motors’ “Every Car Has a High-Quality Body” ad campaign, which startled some Belgian consumers with its less-than-perfect translation: “Every Car Has a High-Quality Corpse.”




4.    Coca-Cola – “Coca-Cola”

Sometimes the problem isn’t just poorly researched slogans, but brand names themselves. For example, Coca-Cola, America’s beloved carbonated beverage with an adorable polar bear mascot, can be confused in Chinese to mean “Bite the Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Fastened with Wax”. This probably didn’t project the intended brand image and far from disgusting or startling Chinese consumers, it probably just left them scratching their heads.




5.    Paxam – “Snow Soap”

The Iranian home supplies company Paxam probably lost quite a bit of business for a translation mix-up in the name of one of its laundry detergents a few years back. While the intention was to conjure up images of white snow and cleanliness, the word for snow in Farsi didn’t settle among English speakers. As a result, the “Barf Soap,” ad campaign didn’t do too well.



6.    Clairol – “Mist Stick”

The American personal-care company that’s a division of the larger Procter & Gamble corporation didn’t do its research when selling a hot new curling iron in Germany. Although no one found any problems with the name “Mist Stick” in English, little did they know that “mist” translates to “manure” in German. Not many German women were looking forward to using a “manure stick” for light and bouncy curls.



7.    Pepsi – “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life”

And finally, another beloved carbonated beverage that didn’t do to well when exploring the Chinese market. The slogan implied energy, alertness, and fun in English, but proved to be a bit of a turn-off for Chinese consumers who didn’t want Pepsi to “Bring Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” We’re sure you can imagine how that ad campaign must have played out.




What all these translation slip-ups come to show is that no matter how amazing or effective content is in its source language, a company can never be too sure how it will affect foreign consumers in a different language. One way to avoid these kinds of highly expensive mistakes is to invest in a digital marketing service at ATA Translation Agency. We have teams of highly skilled marketing experts who work in more than 300 languages and countries all over the world. Don’t make the same mistake these companies did.

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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