Lost in Translation: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Lost in translation, what could possibly go wrong? Contentworks takes a look at why you should think twice about relying on a shady translating service to market your company.

The digital revolution has broken down many barriers for businesses to internationalise their brand. A dedicated website, social media channels and Google are often all you need to draw in customers from all over the world.

But before you break into a new market, it’s always a good idea to check whether your name, logo and messaging appeal to the different regions where you are expanding. And if you decide to market to those regions, you should think twice before you rely on Google Translate to get your messaging across.

As the following translation fails demonstrate, even the world’s biggest companies run into trouble finding the right words to use when selling to different regions. These gaffs range from innocent translation mistakes to embarrassing blunders that remind us context is everything. Surprisingly, many of the errors you’re about to see take strange, morbid turns.


A costly translation error forced HSBC Bank to rebrand its entire private banking operations back in 2009 after it inadvertently told its customers to “Do Nothing.”

All HSBC wanted to do was tell its potential customers to “assume nothing,” an important message immediately after the financial crisis. But when it took that American messaging overseas, the phrase was translated in many countries as “Do Nothing” – not exactly the type of messaging the bank wanted to get across.

Pepsi Co

Global beverage maker Pepsi ran into difficulty translating a popular slogan into Chinese. The company unknowingly translated its “come alive with Pepsi generation” slogan as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”


Suffice it to say, the local population wasn’t too impressed.


The American motor company ran into a few challenges enticing Belgians to buy its cars after it promised them a dead person in every vehicle.

Of course, that wasn’t Ford’s intention at all. The company was just trying to highlight its excellent manufacturing by saying “Every car has a high-quality body.” In Belgian, that came out to “Every car has a high-quality corpse.”

American Motors

The now-defunct American Motors had a major gaff way back in the 1970s when it introduced its midsized car – the Matador – to Puerto Rico.

There was only one problem: In Spanish, matador means “killer.” In a country filled with hazardous roads, you probably don’t want to tell potential customers to get into the killer…

Mercedes Benz

Since we’re on the topic of cars, who could forget the time Mercedes Benz told its Chinese market to hurry up and die. That’s exactly what the company did when it rendered its name as “Bensi” in China. For local Chinese, this effectively translates into “Rush to die.”

Mercedes would later rebrand to Benchi, which means “run quickly as if flying.”


Colgate’s attempt to break into the French market went horribly, horribly wrong when it rebranded its toothpaste as Cue. The company didn’t realize that Cue was also the name of a French pornographic magazine. Definitely not a good image for someone who’s in the market for toothpaste!


Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is yet another example of the challenges companies face breaking into China. Nearly 30 years ago, KFC opened its doors in Beijing. Instead of telling Chinese diners KFC’s chicken was “finger-lickin’ good,” it told them to “eat your fingers off.”

KFC’s food turned out to be finger-lickin’ good after all. The company has become China’s No. 1 quick-service restaurant.


“The future’s bright… the future’s Protestant loyalist.”

That’s pretty much what French mobile network operator Orange told its Northern Irish market with its slogan: “the future’s bright… the future’s Orange.”

For the Irish, “Orange” is often associated with the “Orange Order,” a masonic brotherhood that strives to maintain the Protestant Ascendancy.

As you can probably imagine, this didn’t go over too well with the local Catholic population.


In America, “Turn It Loose” is appropriate slang for encouraging people to have a good time. But when beer maker Coors took that message to Spain, it was interpreted as “Suffer from diarrhea.” This sort of messaging definitely isn’t what Coors had in mind. It certainly isn’t good for business!


This list demonstrates one thing: when it comes to translation services, nothing can replace a local professional writer, especially in China!

Contentworks employs local content writers and social media managers to localise your content and present it in a culturally appropriate way to the world’s second-largest economy.

Don’t be a branding fail and don’t let your words get lost in translation! Contact us today at hello@contentworks.agency before you decide to market overseas. We have the words you want, and the messaging you need to convert global clients.

At Contentworks we always credit our sources. Thanks to the following sites for providing awesome information.


  • Chad Brooks (October 7, 2013). “Lost in Translation: 8 International Marketing Fails.” Business News Daily.
  • TranslateMedia. 5 Marketing Translation Mistakes.
  • Printsome. 15 brands that learned the hard how to translate the hard way.