The French fizzy drink brand Pschitt may have other connotations in English
A brand blunder is an error associated with the branding of a product, especially a new product in a new market. Reasons for such slips include the lack of understanding of the language, culture and consumer attitudes in the new market.
There are numerous examples of brand blunders in marketing history; there are also numerous urban legends surrounding brand blunders, where there is little evidence of an actual blunder.
International branding issues
Problems with international product branding are often associated with the process of language localisation, in which the product brand name or advertising slogan carries a different meaning in the language of the target market. In addition to linguistic aspects, issues of cultural sensitivity can affect the success of a brand.
This is a risk faced by companies entering a new market. In international marketing, a brand name must be distinctive and easy to pronounce across multiple markets, but it must not have unintended negative or obscene connotations. This risk is usually mitigated by factoring cultural research into a branding strategy.
A Colombian van branded with Bimbo bread
Examples of brand names which have proved unsuitable for use in English-speaking countries have included:
- Alu-Fanny, a French aluminium foil
- Barfy, a brand of frozen hamburgers in Argentina
- Bimbo, a brand of bread in Spain and the Americas
- Crapsy Fruit, a French breakfast cereal
- Atum Bom, a Portuguese brand of tinned tuna
- Kack, Danish confectionery
- Kräpp, Swedish toilet paper
- Kum Onit, a German make of pencil sharpeners
- Mukk, an Italian yogurt
- Plopp, a Swedish chocolate bar
- Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink
- Poo, type of curry powder in Argentina
- Pschitt, a French fizzy soft drink
- A number of Belgian beer brands, such as Silly, Prik, Slag, La Plope, Pee Klak and Witte Dikke
Brand names and advertising campaigns which have proved controversial in recent years have included the following instances:
- In 1928, when Coca-Cola entered into the Chinese market it had no official representation of its name in Mandarin. So they went for finding similar pronunciation (Ko-Ka-Ko-La) which means "bite the wax tadpole".
- In 1997, the sportswear company Reebok introduced a women's running shoe called "Incubus"; the company was forced to recall the product when it became apparent that an Incubus is a mythological male demon that rapes women in their sleep.
- A 1997 direct mailer from Weight Watchers featuring Sarah Ferguson, with a caption stating that losing weight was "harder than outrunning the paparazzi", appeared in mailboxes in the days before and following the death of Ferguson's former sister-in-law Princess Diana, an incident in which paparazzi were at the time suspected to have played a role. The company quickly pulled the ads.
- An April 2002 Starbucks ad featured twin cups of their Tazo drinks with the caption "Collapse into cool" and an airborne dragonfly, imagery and wording which reminded many of the recent 9/11 attacks. Though the ads were created before the attacks and the resemblance was coincidental, the company apologized and pulled the posters.
- In 2005 the electronics company Nintendo brought to market in South Korea an electronic dictionary for children named Touch Dic; it was subsequently renamed Touch Dictionary as the name sounded too similar to the slang term "dick".
- In 2006 Sony had a limited Dutch billboard campaign promoting the then-upcoming arrival of the white PlayStation Portable by featuring a black woman and white woman with respectively colored clothing and hair in confrontational poses. After accusations of racism, Sony pulled the ads.
- In 2008, Greyhound Canada hastily pulled the slogan "There's a reason you've never heard of 'bus rage'" after Tim McLean was murdered and beheaded by fellow passenger Vince Weiguang Li aboard a bus in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
- A Nike ad on Oscar Pistorius' website used the caption "I am the bullet in the chamber" and was pulled in 2013 after his arrest in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
The Ford Pinto: problematic in Brazil
The Toyota MR2 sounded unusual in French
- The Honda Jazz was initially named the Honda Fitta. However, when marketing collateral reached the Swedish office of the company, it was pointed out that "Fitta" is a slang term for "vagina" in Swedish and Norwegian. The model was renamed "Jazz" for most markets, with the name "Fit" being used in Japan, China, and the Americas. Similarly, sales of the Ford Pinto suffered in Brazil due to pinto being a Portuguese slang word for a penis; Mitsubishi found that the name of its Pajero model was the same as the Spanish term for "wanker"; and the name of the Toyota MR2, when spoken in French, bore an uncomfortable phonetic similarity to the French word merde, meaning "shit".
- A name given by IKEA's Chinese website for its stuffed wolf toy Lufsig, Lo Mo Sai (路姆西), contained a homophone of Hai (閪), a profane Cantonese word meaning "vagina"; the name itself could be written as Lo Mo Hai (老母閪), meaning "mother's vagina".
- Ayds diet suppressant candy, which had existed for decades prior, continued to use this phonetically identical brand name through the 1980s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic continued to grow. In 1985–1986, use of the name was in fact defended by executives of the company that manufactured it, as a boon to sales. Sales eventually plummeted, and the product name was changed in 1988–1989.
- A German company courted controversy in 2010 when it introduced a brand of beer called Fucking Hell. The brand name was a deliberate choice which referred to the village of Fucking in Austria, combined with the German word Hell which refers to pale lager. The European Union Intellectual Property Office initially refused to grant a trademark for the beer on the grounds that it contained an English expletive, but relented on appeal. This is not, strictly speaking, a brand "blunder", as the brewery consciously intended to capitalise on the double entendre for marketing purposes. It should be noted however that the village of Fucking has since voted to change its name to "Fugging" in 2021, rendering the brand name out of date.
- In 2011, an internal leak of the Dell Latitude ST tablet (codenamed Peju) spread virally on the internet and received some attention in Indonesia, since "Peju" means sperm in Indonesian slang.
- In 2012, a clothing store named "Hitler" opened in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The store immediately became embroiled in an international controversy over its association with the German Nazi-era leader, Adolf Hitler.
- Disney's 2016 film Moana was released in Italy as Oceania, probably to avoid confusion with Italian pornographic actress Moana Pozzi.
- Kiri cheese, produced by Bel Group, was rebranded as "Kibi" in Iran due to the derogatory meaning of "kiri" in Persian for male genitalia and rotten or rank.
- Nokia's Lumia brand translates to prostitute in Spanish but is an uncommon word with gypsy roots.
- Apple's Siri personal assistant pronunciation in Japan as "shiri" translates to buttocks, and in Indonesia, siri translates to "de facto (unregistered) marriage".
- The World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view event Elimination Chamber carries a different name in Germany, "No Escape", in order to avoid associations with the Holocaust.
- In 2019, Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Heinz's latest 'Mayochup' product means "shit-face" in Cree. The incident went viral on Twitter.
Urban legends about brand blunders are popular, because they use familiar urban legend motifs such as the incompetent corporation or the ignorant foreigner. Often the reality is far less dramatic, and the stories, which are even retold in marketing textbooks, are rarely backed up by researched data about sales.
- Electrolux: Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the United Kingdom using a slogan produced by the English agency Cogent Elliot: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux". Although many Americans think this is an example of a blunder, in fact the slang disparagement "sucks", originating in American English, was not current in British English at that time.
- Pepsi: Pepsi allegedly introduced their slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" into the Chinese market. Translated into Chinese, it read "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave". A similar claim has been made for the "Coke adds life" slogan, with the target market listed as anything from Taiwan to Thailand to Japan.
- Coca-Cola: The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Chinese can sound like the words for "bite the wax tadpole" (simplified Chinese: 蝌蚪啃蜡; traditional Chinese: 蝌蚪啃蠟; pinyin: Kēdǒu kěn là) or "female horse stuffed with wax" (骒马口蠟). Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele (可口可乐), which roughly means "let your mouth rejoice". It was never marketed by the company using the other phrases, though individual merchants may have made such signs.
- An urban legend holds that the Chevrolet Nova automobile sold poorly in Latin America, as "no va" means "doesn't go" in Spanish. In truth, the car sold well. The same has been said of the Vauxhall Nova, which had to be sold as an Opel Corsa in Spain. This too is a myth, as the car was built in Spain and known there as a Corsa from the outset. The stress of “Nova” is quite different from “no va”. The legend is the equivalent of claiming a furniture set called Notable didn’t sell well in America because of the name’s similarity to “no table”.
- Claims that the Buick LaCrosse name in translation becomes the equivalent of "to cross oneself", a Quebec French slang term for masturbation, are overstated. Buick initially used the nameplate Allure in Canada in an overabundance of caution when introducing the model in 2005, but abandoned this dual branding early in the 2010 model year. The vehicle now uses the LaCrosse branding in all countries.
- Fake ads, often with sexually explicit content such as one for PUMA and an even less plausible pedophilia-themed one for Breyers, have attracted attention and even official responses from the company denying affiliation.
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The racy photo that's got a sneaker company steamed
- ^ Fake Puma Ad Mystery Solved Archived 4 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ The Ice Cream For Pedophiles Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ 'Lickable' Breyers Ad Archived 5 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- ^ Sexually Explicit PUMA Ads Are Fake, Company Says Archived 7 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine