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Seven translation mistakes that could have been saved by transcreation

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Sep 20, 2021 12:00:00 AM

Who doesn’t love a good translation fail? Well, maybe not the companies that unwittingly unleashed it on the world…or outraged or confused consumers….

Translation fails may be a source of delight for those of us browsing the internet, but they can cause some serious problems. So, why do companies and organizations keep making them?

It often comes down to choices like word-for-word, amateur, or machine translation. But there’s another factor that can make an ad campaign veer into international derision: forgetting about transcreation.

Transcreation is the idea that translation isn’t just about the right words -- factors like culture, slang, current events, and other concepts that make up everyday life must also be taken into account.

These seven translation fails show just how important transcreation is.

1. “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

When choosing a slogan for your brand, you want something catchy, something that will easy stay in the minds of potential consumers. That’s the thinking that led Swedish vacuum brand Electrolux to proudly display its new slogan to the US market: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”!

With their knowledge of slang and culture, a transcreator would have quickly nixed this slogan, which holds the dubious honor of possibly being interpreted in not one, but two, negative ways by American consumers.

2. Puffs Facial Tissues become “Brothel Tissues”

A brand’s name should evoke something about their product, and when it comes to tissues, what’s better than “puffs”? But while this word works well in English-language markets, it didn’t quite make the transition to Germany. There, “puff” is slang for “brothel”, something a good transcreator would have been aware of.

3. Black Friday is (even more) evil in Pakistan

Many of us joke that Black Friday is a terrible day, with people’s worst behavior on display (but most of us still like to benefit from the sales).

Our criticism is nothing compared to the outcry that occurred when online retailer Daraz decided to launch a Black Friday campaign in Pakistan.

Many local consumers found the name offensive -even downright evil, in fact, since black is associated with evil in many Muslim cultures, while Friday is a holy day. Nowadays, culture is taken into account and the term “Black Friday” is replaced with “White Friday” in a number of Muslim countries.

4. Storks don’t deliver babies in Japan

What mythical creature delivers babies? If you’re Japanese, the answer would be “A giant flying peach”. Unfortunately, American company Proctor & Gamble wasn’t aware of this cultural difference when they used their typical packaging in Japan. Customers were confused by images of a stork on baby products, leading to lower than projected sales.

5. A car becomes an insult to masculinity

In the 1970’s, the Ford Pinto was notorious for its propensity to catch on fire when it was bumped or crashed. In Brazil, Ford experienced another problem with its troubled product. No one in the marketing department knew that in Brazilian Portuguese slang, the word “pinto” means “small male genitalia”.

6. UAE citizens have their priorities straight

In some cultures, ad campaigns often joke about how extreme their customers’ devotion is to their product. This was the spirit in which BMW aired an ad showing the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ain Football Club being interrupted in singing the national anthem by the sound of a BMW’s engine - resulting in supporters stopping the song and rushing to take a look at the sweet ride.

But customers in the UAE didn’t find it funny, instead seeing the ad as disrespectful since it makes a car seem more important than their country’s national anthem. BMW issued an apology and had to create a new, more culturally appropriate ad.

7. A slogan inadvertently references a harrowing political conflict

The services offered by Orange, a major French mobile network operator, might have interested Northern Irish consumers. But its marketing material…not so much. The company deftly created an English-language slogan for this new market: “The future’s bright…the future’s orange”.

But they didn’t realize that in Northern Ireland, the color orange is associated the Orange Order, a Protestant group. And so, Orange unwittingly alienated Catholic consumers and evoked bad thoughts about a conflict that has left deep scars, making it arguably the worst blunder on our list.


If you want more translation fails, you can find some excellent lists here, here, here and here. And if you don’t want to commit any errors like these when it comes to your own marketing, make sure that you don’t just hire a translator, but a transcreator.

If this article’s got you thinking about transcreation for your company, 1. great! and 2. we’ve got you covered: At aiaTranslations, we know that language and culture go hand in hand. Our extensive team of international experts mean you’ll be able to get transcreation services for any market.

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