Cross-Cultural Fails: Brands Lost In Translation

Every brand has a particular reason behind their names, slogans, and even their logos. Reasons that nod toward a deeper understanding of their brand story and history. But when these same brands with the same slogans or names advertise in the foreign market, often they fail to realize that their slogans may not be relevant in those cultures and languages, as they may translate to mean something else entirely and there is more about them to be known. In this blog, I’m going to discuss such brand blunders that ended up flopping in cross-cultural markets.


Back when Pepsi opened its business in the Chinese market, they introduced the slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’. What they didn’t realize is that this term translates to ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead’. This seems hilarious now, but back in those days, it was a huge blunder for the brand trying to open its doors in the foreign market.

Pepsi - Brands Lost in Translation


When Vicks officially started its marketing in Germany the biggest disappointment for them was to learn that in German, their v is pronounced as f and that word means ‘sexual penetration’.


BMW released an ad in the UAE in which they show Al Ain Football Club singing the national anthem which is interrupted by the sound of a BMW car after which people stop singing the anthem and run toward the car. People took a lot of offense to this ad saying it’s disrespectful, as the company is showing that their cars are more important than the country’s anthem. BMW later apologized and released an ad that was not offensive to the population.


KFC’s infamous ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ slogan did not make it well in the Chinese markets as, when translated in the local language, the slogan meant ‘Eat Your Fingers Off’. Not only this, but when the food-chain first launched in China, they started using chicken that’s raised and fed in China. But the Chinese feed their chicken fish, which means it tasted a lot different from the food supplied by the company in America.

KFC - Brands Lost in Translation


Another blunder in the Chinese market, this time from Coca-Cola. When the soft drink brand first launched in the country, they named their product something that sounded like Coca-Cola when pronounced. The problem was that they placed the characters such that it translated to the phrase ‘Bite the Wax Tadpole’. When the brand realized this mistake, they quickly changed it to something more acceptable and expressed that Chinese retailers themselves did the blunder.

Coca Cola


Ford launched a campaign in Belgium trying to highlight the car’s spacious feature with the slogan ‘every car has a high-quality body’. Instead, when translated, they found out that the slogan meant ‘every car has a high-quality corpse’, making people run away rather than run toward the brand.



HSBC launched its ‘Assume Nothing’ campaign after spending millions of dollars on it. But it failed badly as, when translated, the term became ‘Do Nothing’. The bank had to spend further $10 million for rebranding and changed their official slogan to ‘The World’s private bank’.

Black Friday and Pakistan

In Pakistan, this cross-cultural fail has come to light most recently in the shape of the ‘Black Friday’ sale. In the US and other countries, this sale indicates the start of the shopping season. Jumping to the occasion, Daraz also started a Black Friday campaign that, instead of being accepted as a global shopping season, started receiving a lot of backlash from the population. In most Muslim countries, ‘black’ is a color associated with ‘evil’. Combine that with a holy day like Friday and you’re bound to face backlash. A lot of brands have ever since tackled this by calling it the ‘White Friday’ sale instead of the opposite to save their sale campaigns in the season from failing.

Black Friday Sale

In all the examples we’ve shared above, it’s obvious that these blunders occur when brands don’t do proper research before entering a foreign market and hence end up with a campaign that’s more a failure than a success. Hence, brands must be mindful of a country and its culture before going around and promoting campaigns that show entirely different meanings than what’s intended. This doesn’t just make people despise the brands but also makes the brands fail in sales and in the overall market rather than being accepted.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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