What an incredible age we live in! Press a button and your message is in front of thousands, if not millions, of people around the globe. A marketer’s dream! Or potentially a nightmare. In the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, social media is an awesome vehicle to spread your message around the world in less time than it takes to say “Twitter”. But even though your message spans the globe in an instant, how well does it translate into different native languages and customs? While it is seductive to have access to a tool like Facebook or Twitter, it does not absolve you of doing your homework or due diligence on how your message translates – as these examples show.
Big brands making big mistakes
- When Coca-Cola’s brand name was first marketed in China, it was sometimes translated as “Bite The Wax Tadpole”.
- Parker Pens brought their product to Spain with the slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” but the translation came out as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”
- Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market under the brand name “Bensi”, which means “rush to die”.
- When Powergen Italia was expanding into English-speaking countries. they decided to go with the most obvious website address: www.powergenitalia.com
- The American Dairy Association used its “Got Milk?” campaign in Spanish-speaking countries, where it was translated into “Are You Lactating?”
- Electrolux, a British manufacturer, marketed its vacuum cleaners in the USA with the tag line: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
The Gap’s tone-deaf tweet
A tweet on the official Gap page simultaneously told people to stay safe during Hurricane Sandy while encouraging them to shop at The Gap.
StubHub stubs its toe
StubHub had to apologize and do some damage control after an employee (thinking they were logged into their personal account) posted the following tweet to the official StubHub Twitter account:
Self-inflicted damage – sometimes you can outsmart yourself
Spy Sunglasses tried to be witty and humorous with their copy when they plastered the slogan “Happy to sit on your face” on billboards. Not surprisingly, it went nuclear on social media. Originally slated for a six-month stint, the billboards were taken down after only one month.
…and first prize goes to…
When breaking into the highly competitive consumer PC market, Panasonic selected a popular cartoon character as the brand mascot for its new machine. To create a theme, they named the device “The Woody”, its touchscreen feature “Touch Woody” and its automatic web-browsing feature “The Internet Pecker”. (I wish I was kidding.) Lesson: Never create a brand name without first running it by some slang-savvy translators.
Five lessons to learn:
- Any idiot can get attention; the trick is to drive buying behavior.
- In a socially connected world, hiring the right people is more important than ever. The truth is, you can’t stop social media and you can’t control it. Your employees can torpedo your brand in a millisecond. It’s never been more important to have the right people working for you and have sound policies and procedures for them to follow.
- Double-check your work. Then… check it again.
- Like it or not, your message is global.
- Honesty is (now more than ever) always the best policy. Don’t lie or be manipulative – it will come back to bite you. Ethics aside, even the whitest of lies can have far-reaching implications.