5 International Marketing Campaigns that failed to translate


Marketing campaigns play a key role in influencing a buyer to purchase their product. All major players in the industry spend a lot of time and money to create these campaigns. Be it billboard advertisements, print ads or commercials on television. Commercials may seem annoying when they appear out of nowhere when you’re watching your favourite show. But, some advertisements just make you purchase their products, it’s like they have this undeniable power.

Remember the time when McDonald’s was offering free toys in their happy meal, you too would have forced your parents to take you there after seeing their advertisement. These marketing campaigns have so much impact on your purchase decisions. Did you ever feel like purchasing a product just because the advertisement was so enchanting? Like a pen, a soft toy or maybe your first pizza.

When companies are marketing products on their home ground, It is a little bit easy to understand buyer preferences and choices. But, when they are launching the same product globally it’s different. As they are supposed to keep in mind the cultural differences and understand their audience base better. If companies are not careful enough, their campaigns may turn disastrous. It is not easy to convey the message that resonates with the company’s values.

If any miscommunication takes place it can be due to lack of cultural awareness or finances. These mistakes can trash the company’s image and also make foreign audience base unwilling to accept them. They can be avoided by being little careful and having a team to understand their culture. These little things can help you in understanding international audiences better.

Here are 5 famous companies whose international marketing campaigns failed to translate globally.


Pepsi can be considered as one of the major players in the beverages industry. They always come up with innovative, funny and thought-provoking marketing campaigns to gain market share over their competitors. Not all their marketing campaigns were a success and here is one such instance.

When Pepsi entered China in the early 1980s their tagline was supposed to mean that Pepsi can bring you back to life but it’s translated into Chinese as Pepsi can bring their ancestors back to life. It was not an ideal way to promote your product in China as ancestors are worshipped as a part of their culture.


Pepsodent has been a trusted oral care brand of Unilever around the world for years. They not only promote their product through awe-inspiring advertisements but they also participate in many social activities. They proved that not always leaders are right. Pepsodent has entered the South East Asian market with an assurance to make their teeth white. But what they overlooked was, in that part of the world they chew betel nuts to turn their teeth black as a status symbol. Clearly, this brand has failed to understand the cultural preferences of their audience.


Ford has been leading the market since 1903. They produce highly-efficient, stylish and functional cars. But there are these two incidents where their marketing campaign went totally wrong. When Ford planned to launch their car “Pinto” in Brazil they didn’t know that pinto meant tiny male genitals. Due to this mistranslation, they couldn’t reach their targeted sales. They even changed the name to “corcel” meaning horse.

Even when they initially launched their motor cars in Belgium, their campaign took a different direction than intended. They wanted people to know that they produce high-quality cars with their tagline. But it ended up being translated as every car has a high-quality corpse. Clearly here the mistake is in translation.

Braniff Airlines

Translation can distort the message you have intended to send to your audience. Here is the perfect example for it, Braniff Airlines has planned a campaign to increase their sales and attract more first-class customers by their tagline fly in leather. But, it ended up getting translated as fly naked.


When this baby care brand entered the Japanese market they have confused many Japanese parents. In the poster of Pampers, a stork is seen carrying a baby. This would have made sense to the US audience as it is part of their culture. In Japanese culture, they believe that giant floating peaches deliver babies.

There are so many instances where mistranslation has created quite a few incidents like Horned Mosses or Hiroshima Nagasaki Bombing incident. Even business giants like HSBC, KFC, Parker Pen has suffered serious outcomes due to translation errors. HSBC has spent around $10 million dollars to rebrand their campaign due to a translation error in 2009.

There are so many international campaigns of some popular brands that have failed to reach a foreign audience. When entering into an unknown territory it is better to go all prepared. Research well about the country, learn about their culture. Interact with the local audience to understand their choices and preferences well. There are so many instances where a brand was successful in establishing themselves in a foreign land with a right game plan.