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Lost in Translation: The Biggest Translation Blunders in Business

Even with AI translation programs that have learned many languages, expanded their vocabularies, and taken all the grammar lessons available, translation remains a tricky subject. Each language has nuances that depend on certain cultures or experiences. Often, these nuances are lost in translation, leading to misinterpretation that can sometimes be amusing.

But if the mistranslation happens in marketing and business, you can expect that many people won’t be happy about the blunder. Just take a look at what happened in the following instances:

No Cement Needed

In a Berlin hospital, German surgeons erroneously implanted artificial knee joints in a non-cemented fashion because the product manual said so. The mistranslated German manual instructed the doctors to bolster the joints zementfrei, which means no cement is needed. These orthopedic surgeons did the procedure for 47 patients before they realized their mistake. The hospital had to perform costly remedial procedures and pay large claims for compensation.

Infertile Pens

translator workingBad translations can harm even the most established brands—and Parker Pen Company may have to agree with this. In one of its ad campaigns, Parker released a slogan that says, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” to showcase the quality of its pens. Everything was doing great until the ad reached Mexico, where it was translated to a Spanish phrase that says, “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Imagine the embarrassment Parker had to endure because of this blunder.

Drink Beer and Suffer from Diarrhea

From applying for a mortgage or home loan to translating slang, some things require thorough research and fact-checking. American beermaker Coors had to learn this the hard way. Its “Turn it loose” campaign worked well in the US, but slang doesn’t always translate well. When it launched the campaign in Spain, people commonly interpreted the tagline as “suffer from diarrhea.” The campaign has made its mark on Spanish consumers but for all the wrong reasons.

Funeral Flower Fiasco

Product launch is often exciting and memorable, but Revlon had one that it would just wish to forget. In Brazil, Revlon introduced a perfume scented with camellia flowers. The product was great, but Revlon’s executives and marketing team overlooked the fact that in Brazil, camellia flowers are synonymous with funerals. Not only did the fiasco end up in major product recalls, but the cosmetics company was also chastised for its insensitivity.

Do Nothing and Everything

In 2009, HSBC Bank had the most embarrassing rebrand in its entire history. The worldwide bank spent millions of dollars on their new tagline, “Assume Nothing.” But it had to retract its entire campaign as the slogan was read as “Do Nothing” in many foreign countries. HSBC had to shell out a few more millions of dollars to overhaul its rebranding, fix its reputation, and regain customer trust.

Bad translations can easily ruin a company’s reputation, especially in today’s age of memes and viral tweets. Language is a sensitive aspect that marketers and business owners should carefully handle. Otherwise, ads and slogans aren’t the only things that will be lost in translation; business revenues will go down the drain as well.

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