When Taglines Get Lost In Translation
The Funny Outcomes of Poorly Tagline Translation Blunders
Almost every brand has a tagline. And some brands have multiple taglines for multiple products, including Proctor & Gamble, Pepsi, and Chrysler Jeep. You may not have given this much thought, but what happens when some of America's greatest taglines are put through the translation filter?
It's not actually as cut and dry as simply hitting the translate button, due to different cultural references. For instance, in some countries, it is common practice to put a picture of the product inside the can on the label. Imagine how they would react to baby food or dog food!
So, we went through the advertising archives to find some of the best examples of tagline crash-and-burn. Although it's funny, it's also very expensive to these companies (and embarrassing to the copywriters). If they don't do their homework, they could end up paying millions of dollars in reprint costs, reshoots and "apology ads." Here's the list, in no particular order. We start with the most famous of the last few decades.
Tagline: Turn It Loose!
AH, who doesn't love an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day? The tagline from Coors, Turn It Loose!, was based around setting the flavor of Coors free. Alas, the Spanish translation made people think they were setting something else free:
Spanish Translation: Suffer From Diarrhea
Tagline: Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation
Sounds great, doesn't it? In fact, it's not a million miles from some of the taglines being used by today's energy drinks. However, it didn't go down to well in China. After it was put through the translation machine, it came out as:
Chinese Translation: Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead
Tagline: Finger Lickin' Good
Mmm, mmm, mmm. Which meat-eating connoisseur doesn't like to tuck into a plate of hot, crispy fried chicken? Well, once again this tagline fell foul of Chinese translation, becoming something quite the opposite of tasty:
Chinese Translation: Eat Your Fingers Off
Tagline: It Won't Leak In Your Pocket and Embarrass You
Not the catchiest tagline but it's a straight-up brand promise. After all, who wants nasty ink stains on their crisp shirts and blouses? But the folks at Parker made one small snaffoo. They thought the Spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass. Nope. And this is how the ads ran in Mexico:
Spanish Translation: It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!
Tagline: GOT MILK?
It's one of the most famous, and most copied, taglines ever. We all know it. However, Latin consumers also got to know it for all the wrong reasons. They must have thought the American Dairy Association were smoking something very strong when this came out:
Spanish Translation: ARE YOU LACTATING?
Another example of things going haywire in China. In the 1920s, Coca-Cola decided to export its product to China, but wanted a name for it that sounds similar to the English pronunciation. After some back and forth, they went with a phonetic translation, and the result was quite confusing:
Chinese Translation: Bite the Wax Tadpole
Tagline: Ingenting Suger Som en Electrolux.
You are forgiven if you don't know what the tagline means. It's Swedish and comes from the home of Sweden's famous vacuum cleaner manufacturer Electrolux. However, when they used the tagline in the USA, it translated well with one unfortunate drawback - in the USA, "sucks" has more than one meaning:
English Translation: Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux
Tagline: Body by Fisher
Body By Fisher is not actually a tagline but a sub-brand of GM. It was basically responsible for a lot of the bodywork done on GM cars (and was bought out by GM in 1925). Of course, there was a glitch with the name. This time, it was Belgium that had the problem, and it's not something that makes any car alluring:
Belgian Translation: Corpse by Fisher
Again, not quite a tagline, this was the model of a car you know all too well. But in Brazil, it's not a bean. Well, not unless you're talking about "the frank or the beans." Yes, PINTO was probably the most insulting name you could give a car. They changed it to the CORCEL, which means HORSE. Good thing too:
Brazilian Translation: Tiny Male Genitals
Tagline: It Takes a Tough Man to Make a Tender Chicken
Perdue's chicken has been producing its products since 1920, and put himself on TV saying the infamous tagline "it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." Lovely play on words…in English. Of course, when it got translated into Spanish, something went awry, and Frank was saying something best put in the WTF Category:
Spanish Translation: It Takes an Aroused Man to Make a Chicken Affectionate
Tagline: Completion Equipment
Otis Engineering has significant ties to Halliburton, and so it's a different kind of scandal that usually rocks the boat here. However, when Otis was asked to take part in a Moscow exhibition, it did so and got a little help from the translation department. It probably had the most interest it has ever had in its products:
Russian Translation: Equipment for Orgasims
Product: Mist Stick
What is it? Not a deodorant but a curling iron. Clairol launched the product in Germany under the same name, not realizing that "mist" is manure in that country. Sales of the product were appalling:
German Translation: Manure Stick
Product: Gros Jos (Baked Beans)
At last, a flub that didn't actually hurt sales! And you'll soon see why. When Hunt-Wesson launched its brand of baked beans in Canada, it was surprised at the sales figures. They didn't realize that the term means, well, see for yourself:
French-Canadian Translation: Big Breasts
Product: Big Mac
If you've ever watched Pulp Fiction (and if not, why not?!) you'll know the whole McDonald's issue with the Royale With Cheese. It turns out, of course, that there's another issue on the table. Big Mac, translated into French, became Gros Mec. And this means something very different:
French Translation: Big Pimp
Tagline: Fly in Leather
Oh, what a promise. In 1987, Braniff Airlines introduced some very new and stylish leather seats to their planes. The tagline seems perfectly fine until it's translated into Spanish. Then, it's a proposition that most of us would not want to happen, at all:
Spanish Translation: Fly Naked