Cross Cultural Marketing Blunders Marketing is not easy with a poor cultural awareness and without a Decent Translator!




  • Greater than 2 minutes, my friend!

    Although cruel, cross cultural marketing mistakes are a humorous means of understanding the impact poor cultural awareness or translations can have on a product or company when selling abroad.

    1. Locum is a Swedish company. As most companies do at Christmas they sent out Christmas cards to customers. In 1991 they decided to give their logo a little holiday spirit by replacing the “o” in Locum with a heart. You can see the result below.

    cross cultural marketing blunder

    2. The Japanese company Matsushita Electric was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created the new web browser and had received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide.
    The day before the huge marketing campaign, Panasonic realised its error and pulled the plug. Why? The ads for the new product featured the following slogan:
    “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” The company only realised its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody’s pecker” could be interpreted as!

    3. The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks. Enough said..

    4. In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto “Wang Cares”. Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not really give a very positive image to any company.

    5. There are several examples of companies getting tangled up with bad translations of products due to the word “mist”. We had “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink), “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) all flopping as “mist” in German means dung/manure. Fancy a glass of Irish dung?

    6. “Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.

    7. In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organisations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.

    8. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It  received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”.

    9. Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it “Honda Jazz”.

    10. A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world: staff at the African port of stevedores saw the “internationally recognised” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!

    Sercan Ertan

    About Sercan Ertan

    Now and always, translator from English to Turkish with specialization in education, pedagogy, occupational health and safety, environmental conservation, construction industry and linguistics.

    5 thoughts on “Cross Cultural Marketing Blunders

    1. Number 6 really caught my eye. With own more “f” it would mean the same thing also in Italian. So I checked on Wikipedia and it looks like it was the surname of the founder, but that the company stopped selling water under that name very early. “Trafficante” and south Italy are not exactly a great selling point!

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