11. Lost in translation
Failed advertising campaigns
One of the most compelling reasons to learn any language is so as to avoid the embarrassing translation errors which have afflicted many companies trying to launch their products in new and untested markets. Clairol for example introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that "Mist" is slang for manure. And Rolls Royce had similar problems in marketing their "Silver Mist"!
Of course, such howlers are not such just limited to firms trying to crack the German-speaking market. Here are many more examples of product launches into other languages which got lost in translation.
1. The American Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?".
2. Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose", into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from Diarrhoea".
3. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux".
4. General Motors are probably still trying to forget the fiasco which ensued when they tried to market the Chevy Nova in Central and South America. "No va" means, of course, in Spanish, "it doesn't go".
5. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what's inside, since many people can't read.
6. Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.
7. An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (= el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the Potato" (= la papa).
8. Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" in Chinese.
9. The Coca-Cola name in China was first read in China as "Kekoukela", meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "Female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "kokou kole", translating into "Happiness in the mouth".
10. Frank Perdue's chicken slogan, "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate".
11. When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read: "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". The company thought that the word "embarazar" (= to impregnate) meant "to embarrass", so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant".
12. When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly in leather" campaign literally, which meant "Fly naked" (vuela en cuero) in Spanish.
"Courteous, efficient self-service"
Hotel notices are a similar source of unintentional mirth. You may be relieved to note from the
first five of the following batch of contributions that the Germans often have as many problems
with English as we do with German.
1. A sign in a Leipzig elevator stated: "Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up."
2. A sign posted in Germany´s Black Forest: "It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose."
3. In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers: "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension."
4. On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."
5. In a Zurich hotel: "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose."
6. In a Tokyo hotel: "Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not person to do such thing is please not read notis."
7. In a Japanese hotel: "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."
8. In another hotel lobby: "Please to bathe inside the tub."
9. In a Hong Kong supermarket: "For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service."
10. In an advertisement for a Hong Kong dentist: "Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists."
11. Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand: "Would you like to ride on your own ass?"
12. Outside a Bangkok dry cleaner´s: "Drop your trousers here for best results."
13. In a Bangkok temple: "It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man."
14. In a Bucharest hotel lobby: "The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret you will be unbearable."
15. In a Yugoslavian hotel: "The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid."
16. In a Belgrade hotel elevator: "To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order."
17. In a Paris hotel elevator: "Please leave your values at the front desk."
18. Outside a Paris dress shop: "Dresses for street walking."
19. In a hotel in Athens: "Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily."
20. In a tailor's shop in Rhodes: "Order your summer suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation."
21. Similarly, from the Soviet Weekly: "There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years."
22. In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from the Russian Orthodox monastery: "You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday."
23. On the menu of a Polish hotel: "Salad a firm´s own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people´s fashion."
24. In a laundry in Rome: "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."
25. In the window of a Swedish furrier: "Fur coats made for ladies from their own skin."
26. In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar."
27. In an East African newspaper. "A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers."
Part 12: "The Awful German Language"?
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