Bloopers #5

If you are new to Auerbach International, we provide business-expansion tips about language or global marketing issues once or twice a month. And when we don’t examine issues in-depth, we are pleased to brighten your day with humorous Bloopers from other languages or countries such as the one above.

Even other English-speaking countries are not immune to statements that have wrong word usage, misspellings and whose logic does not quite flow properly. If you are targeting other countries that speak your same language, be sure to ask your language service to evaluate your message, or to evaluate your new venture or new product name. Language professionals often can foresee issues that you may be unaware of … and that can damage your message, budget or reputation. Consulting your language service is very minor insurance against very big potential gaffes.

Useful tip

When corporate videos go from English into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, sometimes Japanese and other languages, the required words will expand by about 10-20%. Does your video have fixed time limits such as exactly 30 minutes? If so, where will the expanded words go? Your translation service can provide solutions. And if you know in advance that your video will go abroad, be sure to consult your language localization service before you produce it.


  • Is accuracy not essential on your next translation project?
  • Is your project for in-house use only?
  • Is getting the gist sufficient for your needs?
  • Is your text not technical?

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Bloopers #4

Whether in websites, mobile apps or ads, even if you are targeting another English-speaking country, national usage can differ from yours. In Britain and South Africa, the above ad makes perfect sense. But in the US, the wording has a slightly different meaning. Be sure to ask your translation service to verify your message for the target country, even if you think it speaks the “same” language as you. Whether you are translating…

  • French for France or Canada;
  • Portuguese for Portugal or Brazil;
  • English for the UK, Australia, Anglophone Africa or the US;
  • Spanish for Spain, Mexico, Colombia or Argentina;
  • Chinese for China, Hong Kong or Taiwan …

word usage, pronouns and sentence structure can vary by country. You seek to be understood, not ridiculed, with your message.


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Useful Tip:

Many firms assume that an ad wording or brochure format from home will work abroad. But if your text is very tight on the page, it will not fit when it is prepared in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Those languages require about 20% more words than English to express the same concept. A professional language service does have ways to make tight translations fit your English layout, if necessary. But a better solution might be to cut out some words entirely and redesign your site or promotion with benefits and images that appeal to the target country.

Branding and Naming: Critical Mistakes

Avoid Naming “Moo”stakes

Your Brand is Worth the Small Investment

Expanding firms at some point launch a product, service or their own company name in another country. And that process can cause huge gaffes if those names or logos are not screened properly in key target cultures. What sounds or looks fine in one country can have very different meanings to others.
For example:

  • When an Israeli soft-drink maker wrote its name in Hebrew, all was fine. The company even writes its English name in foreign markets such as Brazil and Japan where the locals probably don’t see a problem. But when the same English name is viewed by native English speakers, it does not sound very appetizing for soft drinks. After all,  “Calpis” sounds a lot like “bovine urine.”
  • The Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo, which owns US bakeries such as Entenmann’s, Oroweat and Stroehmann, does not sound very professional in American English.
  • The California company Niku Software may be unaware that “Niku” is Japanese for “meat.”
  • The Clairol Mist Stick curling iron did not quite sell as well as expected in Germany. The word “Mist” in German is slang for manure.
  • Colgate introduced its Cue toothpaste in France, unaware that Cue was the also name of a hot French porno magazine.

Professional language agencies can screen groups of proposed names for all destination countries, evaluating, for example, whether:

  1. the pronunciation is easy or hard in each target language;
  2. the sound seems positive, negative or neutral;
  3. the name carries any negative connotation, evoking perhaps a disease, disgraced politician, porn star, gangster or something similar;
  4. the name sounds like the meaning of another word; or whether
  5. the name is slang for something unappealing.

The same principle holds for logos, colors, images and product descriptions; what speaks to one people may speak very differently or not at all to another. For example, a “tampon” is a “pad” in French but that’s not quite the best way to describe the absorbent pads under pre-packaged chickens.

It is also important to evaluate your selected company, brand and product names or your logo in other dialect markets of the same language such as:

  • Canada for French;
  • Mexico and Argentina for Spanish;
  • Switzerland for German;
  • Egypt for Arabic; and
  • Brazil for Portuguese.

English is no exception: an eraser in the US is a rubber in Britain, a fag in Britain is a cigarette in the US, and a robot in both countries is a traffic light in South Africa. If your company name incorporates those products, you could encounter “a spot of bother” abroad.

Chinese poses its own unique issues.  Since the written characters are not phonetic, they can be pronounced in hundreds of different ways, called dialects. The most commonly evaluated dialects for business are Mandarin and Cantonese. And since Mandarin is the official dialect of both China and Taiwan, names and logos should be evaluated for both countries since each has developed its own culture and writes characters differently. Please contact us to learn other considerations in rendering foreign names in China.


To avoid embarrassment and marketing problems, before you launch any name or logo abroad – even in other English-speaking countries – ask your language agency to evaluate each. This is particularly true in Chinese where one must consider the meaning of the name’s characters as well as their sound in various key dialects.

For this minor investment, you become armed with essential knowledge allowing you to decide whether to retain, change or modify your name — or logo — in other countries. It is also a minor price for this major security and peace of mind. After all, what is your name and image worth?

What NOT to do in Global Marketing – Part 2


Translating, interpreting, dubbing and other language services are just one aspect of your outreach to international markets. Whether you are a part of a startup or a well-established company, and whether your firm is large or small, firms of all sizes have made major gaffes in their global marketing approaches. The key is to make sure these do not happen to you.

The Message and the Messenger

Celebrity endorsers have long been a powerful tool in the marketing mix, but only when correctly done. January in the United States marks the start of the entertainment awards season (Golden Globes, Oscars, etc.). Celebrities will be promoting their films as well as their pet causes. Every aspect of their lives is captured on the screen, in magazines and most importantly online. No wonder that successful companies latch onto stars to open new markets and create broad appeal to larger audiences. But it behooves companies to examine the public positions of celebrities prior to engaging them.

Marketers in their creative zeal sometimes forget that the messenger is just as important as the message. What is said and how it is communicated are critical to a brand’s ability to curry favor (plus sales) in foreign markets. Making sure to add a pinch of cultural sensitivity and to understand the target country’s domestic political conditions can go a long way in creating successful marketing campaigns. Three great brands highlight this point. Just like preparing for a trip, savvy marketers will check the contents of their “baggage” to make sure that nothing detracts from the message they want their customers to receive.
Fiat: Marketing in the Wrong Gere

Italian carmaker Fiat managed to anger 1 billion people with a commercial that didn’t even run in China. How could Fiat achieve such a feat of marketing incompetence? Very simply. It chose the wrong messenger! Fiat ran an ad campaign in Italy that featured actor Richard Gere driving a Lancia Delta from Hollywood to Tibet. This happened in less than 30 seconds. Quite impressive driving!  But Mr. Gere is an outspoken supporter of Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama, positions totally opposed by the Mainland government that considers Tibet an integral part of China. A television spot run half-a-world away quickly became a top story in the Chinese press. China’s people went online to view the ad and vent their anger. After watching the video, many Chinese said that they would never buy a Fiat. Ultimately, Fiat issued an apology to the Chinese government and its people. [watch commercial]
Groupon: Too much exposure
Chicago-based Groupon is the “godfather” of the daily deal websites in the US. Its snappy prose and heavily discounted deals have been like honey to consumers looking to save a few bucks during the “Great Recession”. But Groupon’s quirky personality was laid bare to a global audience of billions during last year’s US football Super Bowl. It too chose to use Tibet as a marketing tool. The commercial began with a narration by actor Timothy Hutton saying, “The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture is in jeopardy.” Images of Tibet, its people and temples fill the screen. We are then transported to a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago where Timothy orders up a fantastic fish curry. According to National Public Radio (NPR), one tweet summed up the response nicely:  Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3 million to lose customers who previously loved them. The response in China was just as negative as in the United States. Quite an innovative way to access a market of 1 billion people. [watch commercial]
Nokia: Your what phone?
In Autumn 2011 Nokia released Lumia, its much anticipated smart phone.  The name seems both creative and harmless. However for customers living in Spanish-speaking countries, it meant something quite different. “Lumia” means “prostitute” in Spanish slang.  It’s a linguistic derivative from Gypsy/Roma influences on the Spanish language. If you’re a pimp in Latin America, there really isn’t a problem. However, if you’re one of the other 500 million people who live there, marketing such a device will most definitely present a challenge. For more examples of why prior screening of any product or brand names is critical, please see our previous newsletter [Product and Brand Naming]. After all, why jeopardize future international success even when you don’t know how global your product might become?


Marketing to the world’s people is quite a challenge. Celebrities, brand names and advertising that may work in one country may not prove as effective in another. Successful marketers must have a deep knowledge of their craft, but they also need a thorough understanding of the cultural, political, symbolic and linguistic distinctions that make each country unique. Your enterprise may be small, medium or multinational. And you may be able to afford celebrities, a part-time overseas rep or only a simple brochure. But a small investment in global marketing consultants — targeted to your industry, product and countries – is a very minor expense upfront to save you from potential humiliation and wasted resources. Like insurance, what is protecting your investment worth?