Catchy names and marketing slogans

HOW brand names and marketing slogans work in one culture but not in others was shown in the advertisements for two brands of clothing, Bizarre and Double Bull, that I saw in the Indian media.

Bizarre, perhaps an appropriate name for a store selling funky clothing, would never do for a mainstream brand in the west. Bullshit, an Americanism for nonsense or rubbish, is sometimes abbreviated to bull, as in "Don't give me bull". Or "It's all bull". Such an attempt to project or associate an image of sartorial elegance with the first, and of manliness with latter, would not succeed in some English-speaking countries.

One of the most flagrant examples is "Odessa", the name of a brand of portable fire extinguishers sold in India. The logo of this particular brand has the insignia of the SS, the ruthless elite corps of a special police force in Germany under Hitler, and is an exact copy of the design as it appears on the cover of the novel The Odessa File by Fredric Forsyth about a secret society of former SS officers called "Odessa". In western nations where "Aryan" is being replaced by "Indo-European" since the former was once used to describe an ideal race by the Nazis, such packaging would not last a day because of being politically incorrect.

Similarly, a slogan such as "I want my thunder!" for the soft drink Thumbs-Up would be laughed away in the United States and Canada because "thunder" is often a colloquial term for air escaping as a result of flatulence, and "thunder-box" a colloquialism for a lavatory. In this context, if some reader is wondering about the origin of the expression "steal a person's thunder" (to use another person's idea before he or she can, to take the limelight or attention away from another person), it comes from a remark "They stole my thunder!" of the English dramatist John Dennis (1657-1734) when the sound of thunder he had invented as a stage effect for his own play was used without him knowing in a performance of Shakespeare's MacBeth.

And even in India, Hindi-speakers with little knowledge of English are bound to confuse Pepsi's slogan yeh dil mange more with one's heart yearning for the peacock bird. If this seems farfetched, consider Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" that translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" in Chinese.

Over the years I have been sent many examples of marketing screw- ups. Since no record was kept, some are quoted here without due acknowledgement, but with an admission that it's not meant to steal anyone's thunder.

Coors beer's slogan "Turn it loose" read in Spanish as "Suffer from diarrhea."

Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, in Germany only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the "manure stick."

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the U.S., with a beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since most people can't read.

An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el papa), the shirts read "I saw the potato" (la papa).

The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as Ke-Kou-ke-la, meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent ko-kou-ko-le, translating into "happiness in the mouth."

Frank Perdue's chicken slogan, "it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."

Scandinavian vaccum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.

When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, "it won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Instead, the company thought that the word embarazar (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."


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