When marketing goes wrong; importance of research.

Sometimes I think that humans developed somewhat of a fascination with watching others struggle. Consider the amount of internet entertainment that is solely based on fails, slips, stumbles and overall public embarrassment. It’s a lot right? And no one is safe, not even the big brand companies who put millions and countless hours into very elaborate advertising that can sometimes backfire! For now though, learn from these hilarious disasters, as well as try to avoid them in your own marketing campaigns!


When Pepsi expanded their market to China, they used the same promotional slogan that was popular in America, which was ‘Pepsi brings you back to life!’. However what they didn’t realize was that in Chinese, that phrase literally translates to ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave!’. Now while the Coca Cola executives probably had a good laugh about that, I certainly don’t want the ghosts of my ancestors returning unannounced.


Additional entertaining examples of a translation gone wrong:

  • Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the catchphrase ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ in their campaigns in UK
  • Kelogg had to rename its Bran Buds cereal in Sweden when it discovered that the name roughly translated to ‘burned farmer’
  • When KFC first opened in China, they accidentally translated their well-known slogan ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ to a slightly maniacally sounding ‘Eat your fingers off’.
  • Hoping to highlight the car’s excellent manufacturing, the auto giant FORD used what the execs thought was the phrase ‘Every car has a high quality body’, in its Belgium ads. However, when translated the phrase turned into ‘Every car has a high quality corpse’.
  • When Braniff International Airways translated a slogan touting its upholstery, “Fly in leather”, it came out in Spanish as “Fly naked”.
  • Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela”, meaning “Bite the Wax Tadpole”, due to some independent shopkeepers advertising the product before it was actually available in the country. Coke was much more careful and researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokoukole”, translating into “Happiness in the Mouth”.



The company tried its hardest to break into the highly competitive PC market, and in order to do so selected the popular cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as the brand mascot. To create a coherent theme they named the device itself ‘The Woody’, with the product slogan being ‘Touch Woody’, and its creative automatic web browsing feature which got the name of ‘Internet Pecker’. Panasonic had absolutely no clue that there was something wrong with the campaign, until a day before the big launch. Ultimately years of research and careful product planning/creation got negated due to one bad reference in an ad.  Panasonic executives did manage to change “Touch Woody” to “Woody Touch Screen” in the announcement materials.


Mistakes  that were made and how to avoid them:

1. Assuming that every culture around the world is the same

As seen in a few of these, every culture around the world is different. So if something works in one country, attempting to mirror it and expect it to work somewhere else may lead to failure.

2. Not thinking locally

Colors, shapes, slogans and humor differ across continents. Not realizing it soon enough, may not turn out well. For instance, the Japanese culture considers the color white to be associated with death. Therefore a website that blatantly displays a lot of white will put off Japanese visitors and may even offend them.

3. Using machine translators or non-skilled translators.

Invest. Using Google Translate to translate a phrase into another language and back may give you a hilarious result – use it for good laugh but not for an international marketing campaign! To avoid translation and localization errors (if you’re marketing to several global markets), consider appointing a person as the central point of contact for all global search programs. This person would effectively manage all aspects from search partners, translators, and local experts, play a key role in timing campaign launches, and communicate the overall objectives of your search engine programs.

4. Not researching the market properly

In the 1960s the General Mills turned to Japan to market cakes from the Betty Crocker brands, but there was one problem, there were no ovens in the homes. General Mills then started to look for a way for the Japanese housewives to make the cakes using the rice cooker, which is in every Japanese household. They were successful in the cake trials, and the product was launched with the name Cakeron. The new product was not getting repeat sales for two reasons: rice is eaten in Japan with every meal, and rice is also considered sacred. Soon after its launch, General Mills withdrew Cakeron from Japan.

Proper market research would have avoided such a failure. Such research tends to be complicated, but a simple interviewing of locals is better than nothing. The truth is, when it comes to marketing mishaps, prevention is always better than cure. As such, it is important that you’ve explored every possible outcome before you’ve launched your marketing campaign, especially how internet reputation management services can assist your efforts.


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