Ad Fails: When Famous Adverts Got Lost in Translation

Take a look at some notorious fails by big brands, and discover why transcreation is the answer.
Ad Fails: When Famous Adverts Got Lost in Translation
Photo by Josh Earle / Unsplash
Table of Contents
In: Global Communications, Transcreation, Translation

You’ve spent weeks coming up with a catchy tagline, cool visuals and a clever campaign plan. Now your shiny new ad is out in the world and…. Oops. Did anyone check the translations?

Photo by Pollina Zimmerman / Pexels

Translating advertising slogans is notoriously tricky. Playful and punchy, these short texts are often packed with word play and cultural references that simply don’t work in other languages.

4 examples of messaging mishaps

Even the biggest companies in the world sometimes get it wrong, as these examples show.

  • In 1987, Braniff Airlines launched the slogan “Fly in leather” to promote its plush new leather seats. But the campaign didn’t take off in Mexico, where the phrase "Vuela en cuero” literally means “Fly naked”.
  • HSBC’s “Assume nothing” campaign went viral for all the wrong reasons when it was translated as “Do nothing” in many other languages. The result? A swift and very costly rethink.
  • A former slogan of US brewing giant Coors was “Turn it loose”. In Spanish, the literal translation suggested that the beer would cause diarrhoea – not the ideal product message!
  • The French poster for the Barbie movie included the phrase “Lui, c’est juste Ken”, which means both “He’s just Ken” and “He only knows how to f***”. But was this racy double entendre an innocent mistake or a deliberate (and successful) move to grab attention? Read more.
An ambiguous French phrase on the Barbie movie poster got people talking.

Don’t get lost in translation

The good news is there’s an easy way to avoid language-related blunders: transcreation.

Transcreation is all about translating ideas rather than words. It’s about capturing messages in a creative way that works naturally in the target language, taking into account the target audience’s values and cultural nuances.

Photo by Trid India / Pixabay

We speak your language

So before you go global with your next ad campaign, speak to our Transcreation team. We’ll make sure your message lands perfectly every time.

Written by
Fiona Freeman
Writer. Reader. Nature Lover. Coffee Drinker. Managing Editor.
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