Expanding internationally is a goal for a number of companies, especially as countries like China and India continue to grow in size and influence on the world stage.
But even multinational companies get it wrong when moving to other markets.
Here are a few major mistranslations:
1. Pepsi of the Dead
Pepsi's slogan is: "Pepsi brings you back to life."
This was unfortunately translated more literally when it went into the Chinese market. It became: "Pepsi brings dead ancestors back from the grave."
It was a haunting translation error.
2. Fizzy water for your ... toilet?
When Schweppes Tonic water launched its product in Italy, it was also literally translated (a trend that obviously doesn't always work).
That literal translation turned out to be: "Schweppes Toilet Water."
It turned out this wasn't a mouthwatering prospect for Italians.
3. Do nothing with your money
HSBC is the sixth-largest wealth manager worldwide, and well-known as being quite successful in the world of finance. But in 2009, it needed to launch a $10M rebranding strategy due its catchphrase, "Assume Nothing."
The phrase was mistranslated in a number of different markets as "Do Nothing."
Not really what you want when it comes to managing your money.
4. Fried fingers, anyone?
Kentucky Fried Chicken is well-known in the English-speaking world for its slogan, "Finger-lickin' Good!"
But that phrase doesn't translate in China. In fact, it was lost in translation to become, "Eat Your Fingers!"
Not the most appetizing of prospects.
5. Crap doesn't sell
Both Clairol and Canadian Mist stumbled into the same translation error when they attempted to penetrate the German market.
Canadian Mist was trying to launch a brand of whiskey. But they were unaware that in German, "mist" means "manure." Germans may like alcohol, but not when it's branded as Canadian Crap.
Clairol ran into the same issue when it tried to sell a curling iron called the "mist stick."
Imagine a company trying to sell you a "poop stick" for your hair.
6. Pull my finger
Speaking of unintentional poop jokes, when General Electric launched a new partnership brand in Europe with the acronym GPT, they quickly realized that in French, GPT is pronounced "J'ai pété."
That means "I farted" in French.
7. What's in the trunk?
When auto giant Ford launched an ad campaign in Belgium, it was attempting to highlight the quality of its latest vehicle. The slogan was: "Every car has a high-quality body."
But a mistranslation made it: "Every car has a high-quality corpse."
Not the kind of junk you want in your new car's trunk.
The point of all this is that whether you're expanding internationally or even just into another market within the same country, you need to involve your local team as much as is humanly possible. Many times the people on the ground in that location (or even age demographic) will only speak up if you ask them--so ask them repeatedly.
Bring people into your creative process early and often, especially as you're working out language and phrasing. If you're marketing to Boomers, run what you're doing by the Boomers at your company and ones you know at home. If you're marketing to Millennials or those in Generation Z, same thing--ask around. Be proactive. Don't work in a black box for months at a time and then come out with something you haven't tested yet.
And if you're expanding internationally, do this tenfold. Hire professional translators. Send native speakers your material early on and then listen closely to what they say.
It seems incredible, looking at this list, that it could be real, but it is--and in many cases it costs companies millions and damaged reputations beyond repair.
Communicate with your people. Among other useful things, they'll let you know whether you're about to eat your fingers or bring your grandmother back from the dead.