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American Advertising Gone Wrong in China

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Everyone has seen signs and campaign commercials to try and get one to buy a company’s product. Well, what happens when that a certain American Soda company might want to expand to, let’s say, China? The first thing that one might think of for adjustments to the new country is the language. So, the American company would hire a translator, maybe one originally from China. It’s not until months or maybe even years, until the company has their product on the foreign shelves, when they realize why it’s not selling. Their slogan, or even the company name, has been butchered to something that wasn’t as the originally planned. Cultural misunderstandings in language translation have been around for decades, and are most recognized in company mishaps.

Language is the main way of communicating from human to human, but there are so many mistakes in translation that sometimes things just come out the way they weren’t originally intended. For example, Coca-cola expanded its business to China, and so far, everything was going great expect for one thing. The translation process was proved to be difficult after two tries, especially when the first was given many confused stares. The first attempt to spell the company name was to say the name was like “ke-kou-ke-la” because it sounded somewhat like Coca-cola. It wasn’t until after printing thousands of signs that, depending on the dialect, the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”. The company immediately took action after researching tens of thousands of Chinese characters to change it to “ko-kou-ko-le”. This time Coca-cola got it right to a better fitting translation “happiness in the mouth”.

However, Coca-cola wasn’t the only soft drink company from America that had hard times translating their patented words. Pepsi-cola (or more popularly known as just “Pepsi”) had a major mistake in their slogan. It turns out the translator Pepsi hired took their saying a little too literally when it came to advertising the product. The slogan was “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life”, and after a couple of months later, the company found out why they made so many Chinese people angry or overly-excited. Pepsi-cola later found out that the real translation that was advertised was “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” Apparently, this was changed a few years back, so the company wouldn’t accidentally false advertise.

Although, Coca-cola and Pepsi-cola weren’t the only ones to have odd translations; actually they were the few of the many. Another mix-up came from the famous chain restaurant Kentucky Fried Chicken. Their slogan, “Finger Lickin’ Good”, had some problems with translation as well when they also expanded their business to China. The translator, again, took their saying just a bit too seriously, and horrified some of the few who read it. Many signs had already printed “Eat Your Fingers Off” as the slogan instead. It’s unknown if KFC has even fixed the problem today, though they do seem to still get business in China.

The name and slogan mix-ups are a good example of everyday cultural misunderstandings through communications because it happens every day. It just doesn’t happen with coke and restaurants, but in the classroom, office, and other things as well all around the world. Maybe these companies could have avoided the misunderstanding if they made sure that their translators understood the American culture, as well as the Chinese culture. However, bad translations and translators are everywhere but the misunderstandings and mess-ups involving languages are almost always humorous.



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