There are many complex decisions to be made when planning your company's expansion into new countries. No culture is alike, and each country has a language and customs unique to itself. Ergo, you would think that culture and language research would be top of the agenda for every company planning to penetrate new markets.
Over the years, however, we have seen and heard some stories emerge on various websites and blogs about some brands' lack of research in the areas of culture and language. But we could never be 100% sure if they were legit or not -- some seemed too awful or hilarious to be true. So in this blog post, we thought it'd be fun to revisit those alleged blunders, and try to get to the bottom of the legends. Let's play a little game of True or False, shall we?
The Story: This rocky mountain ice cold beer company decided to cool down their Spanish market. However, the translator for Coors must have been product testing that day and their slogan "Turn It Loose," when translated, became "Suffer From Diarrhea." Not really something I would elect to do on a Friday evening after work. True or False?
There are reports that Coors used the phrase suéltalo con Coors which translates, literally, to "let it go loose with Coors"; there are other reports that they used the phrase suéltate con Coors, which literally translates to "set yourself free with Coors." However, according to David Wilton, author of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, Coors never actually ran an ad campaign featuring any of these slogans.
2) Dairy Association
The Story: When expanding into Mexico, the Dairy Association's hugely successful "Got Milk" campaign was not so well received. Translated, the slogan became "Are You Lactating?" I have a feeling that slogan didn't resonate with as wide of an audience as the Dairy Association was hoping. True or False?
According to Jeff Manning, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, this was discovered and resolved in the market research phase. Phew.
The Story: Getting a country's official language correct is one thing, but don’t forget to research the colloquialisms of the culture, as well. Take this Scandinavian vacuum company as an example. They thought their slogan, "Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux," was very clever given the powerful suction of their Electrolux vacuum cleaner. However, when they launched in America, it wasn’t quite clear whether Electrolux was being promoted -- or in fact dissed -- by a competitor. True or False?
According to Wikipedia, in the 1960s Electrolux successfully marketed vacuums in the United Kingdom with this slogan. It was later used in the United States, but the informal U.S. meaning of the word was actually already known in the UK. So, this was a bit of a marketing gamble, in hopes the edgy slogan would help them gain some attention in their international expansion.
The Story: Here's a good Halloween marketing campaign from Pepsi -- only it wasn't a Halloween campaign, and was very offensive to the Chinese market they were trying to crack. Instead of promoting their famous slogan "Come alive with Pepsi generation," they marketed themselves by accidently saying "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead." Pepsi packs a powerful punch, but probably not that powerful. True or False?
Pepsi has neither confirmed nor denied this claim. Let's move on to their competitor, then ...
The Story: One of the most famous blunders comes from the most widely known brand name in the world. When Coca-Cola was entering the Chinese market, the drink was pronounced "Ke-kou-ke-la" which, depending on dialect, meant "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax." True or False?
According to myth-debunking-site Snopes.com, store owners making their own signs made the blunder because they used their own dialect and characters, which in other regions translated to bite the wax tadpole, etc. Coke actually researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
The Story: The German market was in for quite a shock when hair care company Clairol arrived on the scene with their "Mist Stick" curling iron. Why? "Mist" in German translates as "Manure." Yikes. I know they say mud is good for the skin but I'm not sure anyone could sell manure for the hair. True or False?
It looks like this story has been mixed up with that of a Rolls Royce Silver Mist story. Clairol, you're off the hook!
7) Parker Pens
The Story: Parker Pens had a fun time explaining themselves after bringing their product to Spain ... and promptly ensuring people it wouldn't get them pregnant. Their slogan (which leaves a lot to be desired in the first place) went from "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you" to "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant." I should certainly hope not. True or False?
TRUE.Or at least according to the examples in the book Brand Failures.
8) Powergen Italia
The Story: Even something as simple as a website address can go horribly wrong. Take Powergen Italia, for example. They're an Italian company who was expanding into English-speaking countries, and decided to go with the most obvious website address -- without thinking about how it would read for their English-speaking customers. Visit www.powergenitalia.com to learn more. Just kidding. They nixed that URL pretty promptly. True or False?
This is true according to several sources, including Ananova, although it's important to understand that this blunder didn't come from the Italian division of energy giant Powergen, but the marketing folks at Powergen Italia, an Italian maker of battery chargers. The website now switches you over to the more aptly named for English-speakers, www.batterychargerpowergen.it.
The Story: Everybody knows the cute little Gerber baby that features on the front of all of their baby food products -- so sweet! However, when they entered the African market they failed to research product packaging norms. Had they done that, they would have discovered that products mostly feature images of the contents inside the packaging. Therefore, a jar with a cute little baby on the front didn't do so well. True or False?
According to Snopes.com, this is an urban legend -- which was both surprising and frightening to some HubSpotters that had heard this story when they were taking university-level PR classes. Yikes.
How some of these blunders got past the execs at these companies is unclear, but clearly it is possible to make catastrophic mistakes, even if you're a global leader like many of these brands. Allow yourself some time to properly roll out your global expansion plans, pulling in cultural and language experts along the way.
For more tips on setting yourself up for success, download the Marketer's Guide to European Expansion. Although we can't help with translation, we do cover essential topics like how to decide which markets will be a good fit, how to achieve a multilingual website, and SEO tips from expert Aleyda Solis.