From the San Francisco Chronicle...including one from Parker Pen in the 1930's:
"Sunday, February 6, 2005
Despite all the hype, no one can guarantee that today's Super Bowl match-up between the Patriots and Eagles will be riveting, or that Sir Paul's performance at halftime will make us forget last year's wardrobe malfunction. But there is one sure thing: It's still the Super Bowl of Advertising, as a 30- second TV spot will set you back a mere $2.4 million.
In honor of those pricey spots and the nervous ad folks who created them, we've decided to take a look at a few classic campaigns gone wrong.
Behind the Iron Curtain: Clairol in Germany
A few years back, Clairol, the hair products company, introduced a curling iron called the "Mist Stick" to the world. The vapor wand was all the rage with stylistic vunder-babes and sold like hotcakes worldwide ... except when Clairol execs brought the beauty product into Germany. Turns out that "mist" is German slang for "manure" or "excrement." And while many farmers may have had a use for a Manure Stick, fair-haired beauties did not. On a related note, Rolls-Royce had a mighty hard time marketing its "Silver Mist" coupe to Germans.
A pun in the oven: Parker pens in Latin America
In 1935, the Parker Pen Co. invented and marketed a truly innovative product: a reliable fountain pen. Most businessman of the day carried their pens in sparkling white shirts, and the Parker model offered them the promise of being able to holster those puppies without worrying whether they would leak or stain. The pen was a wonder, and the ad slogan "Avoid embarrassment, use Parker Pens," was a huge success. The next step? Go global, of course.
When they first expanded their market to Latin America, what the folks at Parker wanted to say was, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Problem was that the Spanish word "embarazar" has a double-meaning; it means "to embarrass," but it also means to "impregnate." So, to some unsuspecting souls, the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
You say potato: the unsuspecting guy in Miami
For every large corporation that's made a translation blunder, there are undoubtedly scores of smaller businesses that similarly messed up international opportunities. When Pope John Paul II visited Miami in September 1987, a rather enterprising gentleman thought he'd cash in by offering T- shirts with the phrase "I saw the Pope" in Spanish. Unfortunately, instead of using "el Papa" ("the Pope"), he mistakenly substituted "la Papa" ('the potato"). And while spuds everywhere rejoiced at their newfound fame, all eyes were on the businessman, who found himself the subject of everlasting public ridicule.
How you gonna clean up this mess? Electrolux in America
American companies aren't the only ones that have fumbled their ad campaigns on foreign soil. Sometimes the embarrassment is imported to our very own shores. Case in point: Electrolux, the Scandinavian electronics company. Electrolux can make one heck of a refrigerator (Frigidare) and if you need a vacuum cleaner that'll suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, they're your guys. But the company ran into a little trouble trying to persuade the American consumer of that in the early 1970s. When the company took its catchy rhyming phrase "nothing sucks like an Electrolux" and brought it to America from English-speaking markets overseas, they failed to take into consideration the fact that "sucks" had become a derogatory word in the States. The serious language barrier persuaded the firm to turn to a U.S.-based PR firm for future ad campaigns.
Character development: Coke in China*
(*Read on, Urban Legend Police)
Because Coca-Cola is one of the most famous global brands, its slipups become all the more legendary. You may have heard that the company was humiliated after the Coke name was translated into Chinese as "bite the wax tadpole," but that's not exactly true. It happened more like this: Upon first shipping the soft drink to China in the 1920s, the company attempted to group Chinese characters together that, when pronounced, would make the sound "Coca- Cola."
Although the company never officially adopted it, some shops used phrases that translated to oddities like "bite the wax tadpole" or "wax-flattened mare. " The problem was that the "la" sound meant "wax," and there was no way around using it. Undeterred, Coke researched more than 40,000 characters to find a usable phonetic equivalent and even started a contest to come up with the best translation. Finally, Coke found a combination that worked, and the new trademarked name in China loosely translates to "happiness in the mouth." Even though the urban legend surrounding this incident places a lot more blame on the company itself, the story has still come to serve as the quintessential anecdote for companies initiating global ad campaigns.
Baby Boom to Baby Bust: Procter & Gamble in Japan
In 1961, Procter & Gamble introduced the world's first disposable diaper, and landfill owners have been rejoicing ever since. But P&G's biggest overseas advertising blunder occurred a decade later when the firm introduced its Pampers brand in Japan. The corporation's ad team used an advertisement that had done well in the U.S. market, and one quite familiar to most Baby Boomers: an animated stork delivering Pampers diapers to a happy home.
Unfortunately, when dubbed into Japanese for broadcast, this cutesy commercial failed to do the trick. Japanese consumers were utterly confused as to why a bird was delivering disposable diapers. Contrary to Western folklore, storks in the Orient are not supposed to deliver babies (although if one's big enough, it may very well steal an infant from a baby carriage). Had the ad lackeys done their jobs, however, they might have found an allegory that would have worked. In Japan, a 14th century fable has it that babies arrive in giant peaches, floating peacefully along rivers and streams to deserving parents. Storks are just plain scary.
Adapted from mental_floss magazine. For more quirky fun, visit www.mentalfloss.com. "