Top 5 international marketing fails and top 5 successes

29th July 2019

Emily Robertshaw

We all laugh at translation blunders on menus, road signs, packaging and even Google translated websites, but international marketing mistakes can really damage a brand’s image and reputation.

The majority of blunders come from brand names not coming across well in the target market or mistranslations in slogans. It can be tricky because sometimes you’re not aware of meanings in other languages when choosing your initial product name, however you need to research thoroughly before selling your product or service in an international market.

Here are 5 international marketing campaigns where mistakes proved costly:


HSBC had a rather expensive translation mistake in 2009 when their slogan “Assume nothing” was wrongly translated as “Do nothing”, which was definitely not the message they wanted to get across to their customers. The error cost them $10 million to fix and they decided to change their slogan and the translations to “The world’s private bank”.

2) Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz is a well-known brand, they decided to enter the Chinese market using the name “Bensi”. They should have checked what the word means in Chinese first though as it means “rush to die”. It was a costly mistake and was eventually changed to “Ben Chi”, which means to gallop.

3) Chevrolet

A similar issue occurred when Chevrolet decided to keep the name of their “Nova” car the same for the Spanish market. However, in Spanish no va means doesn’t go, so it didn’t sell too well. Chevrolet changed the name from “Nova” to “Caribe” and sales began to increase.

Sometimes it’s not the translations of slogans or brand names that aren’t suitable, it’s also the images.

4) Yellow Pages

Yellow Pages published an ad on billboards around Toronto, which said “Find out if Bi Bim Bap tastes as good as it sounds” and had an image of a bowl of noodles and chopsticks underneath it. Bibimbap is actually a Korean rice dish, which is eaten with a spoon, so it wasn’t well received.

5) Procter and Gamble Company

Procter and Gamble Company made another image error when they started selling their Pampers disposable nappies in Japan. The packaging had a large image of a stork delivering the nappies, which links to the popular children’s tale in the UK that a stork delivers babies. However, in Japan, the story of the stork does not exist. In fact, babies are said to be delivered by a giant peach which floats them down the river. It just confused people and led to poor sales.

It’s not always a disaster though! Here are 5 brands that got the right balance between keeping the tone of their brand with ensuring it resonates with the target market.

1) Innocent Drinks

Innocent Drinks are well known for marketing their smoothies and juice drinks in a playful, chatty way. They use humour on their website and packaging to give their brand voice a friendly tone to help bring their brand to life. They worked hard with translators and teams in each territory to replicate their colloquial chatty tone in other languages and it really paid off.

2) The Coca-Cola Company

The “Share a coke” campaign in 2014 had a real impact internationally. People from all countries could go online and order a bottle of coke with theirs or a friend or family member’s name on it. It also prompted buyers from all over the world to share their photos and videos of their personalized bottles on social media.

3) L’Oréal S.A

L’Oréal needed a translation for their brand name in Chinese. They could have opted for a transliteration of each syllable, but they hired a transcreator to rewrite their message. They opted for the word Ōuláiyǎ 欧莱雅, which includes the characters for the words quality and elegant, making them stand out more as a luxury brand.

4) Harry Potter

Even if you’re marketing to another predominantly English-speaking country you need to think about whether names, titles and slogans will be well received. The first book in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, was adapted to sell in the US market as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. US advisers said it would be thought of as a book about philosophy rather than a book about magic.

5) Toyota Motor Corporation

Toyota’s 2017 global campaign for its Camry model had some serious thought and work behind it. They tailored TV ads for different countries using actors of different ethnicities. It worked well because Toyota respected the culture in each of the target markets rather than just using a one size fits all advert.


At Andiamo! we offer professional international marketing translation and transcreation services for a range of sectors. We can also adapt from one language variant to another. For example, we can adapt UK English to US English or European Spanish to Latin American Spanish. Get in touch on 08450 345677 for more information or for a free quote.

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