We Translate On Time

The 5 Biggest Advertising Mistakes in Translation

July 29th, 2020

In an increasingly globalised world, it is becoming more important than ever for transnational companies to appropriately market their services overseas through translations of catchy slogans and promotional campaigns. However, with the ever-increasing use of automatic, machine translations, it is vital that translators take into account nuances and cultural differences to avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes.  

HSBC Holdings plc

One of the most damaging mistakes for an international corporation was the translation of HSBC’s slogan ‘Assume nothing’. However, in 1999, when the bank attempted to extend their advertising campaign, the slogan was mistranslated to ‘Do Nothing’ in numerous countries. The bank was forced to spend $10 million in redesigning the promotional campaign. 


An unfortunate mistake occurred when KFC attempted to move their ‘Finger lickin’ good’ slogan to China. This resulted in the off-putting translation of ‘Eat your fingers off’. 


Another example of an unsettling translation by an American corporation in China happened in the 1960’s. The slogan ‘Come Alive with Pepsi’ was translated into ‘Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead’. The unsettling image led to the failure of the promotional campaign.

Ford Motor Company

Car giant Ford had a similar blunder when introducing a new slogan in Belgium suggesting that ‘every car has a high-quality corpse’ instead of ‘body’ – yet another unpleasant image for European customers. 

Molson Coors Brewing Company

The complexities of translating idiomatic phrases came to light during a promotional campaign by the American beverage company, when their slogan ‘Turn it loose!’ was translated into a Spanish phrase suggesting that consumers will suffer from diarrhoea. It’s not surprising that the beer didn’t sell well.

The examples above highlight the importance of understanding the complexities of idiomatic and cultural differences. By failing to entrust their translations to a careful, professional translation agency, businesses can be left with substantial financial losses – as well as having an embarrassing loss of reputation overseas.

by Henrietta Body