List o’ 10 More Marketing Boo-Boo’s: Part V

marketing visionHere are some more amusing stories in the collection of marketing mishaps from some very large companies. These are not necessarily little things that went “oops”, but really some bigger boo-boo’s that you think would have caught someone’s attention before going to market. Well, apparently not…


10. I Saw the Potato

the potato

In 1987, an American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted a visit to the city by the Pontiff. Instead of the desired I saw the Pope in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed I saw the Potato. El Papa (masculine) is the Pope; la papa (feminine) is the potato.

9. Powergenitalia


No, Powergenitalia is not the company responsible for all that spam offering to help you with organ extensions or to invigorate you with Viagara-powered vitality. It is also not the Italian division of energy giant Powergen. When numerous English-speakers on the web took note of the web site, Powergen felt obligated to announce that they had no connection with the site and in fact had no Italian offices, so that people would not think that it was their Translation Marketing Mistake. No, they left that distinctive honor to the marketing folks at Powergen Italia, an Italian maker of battery chargers. Perhaps they were shocked to learn its a World Wide Web. The website now switches you over to the more aptly named for English-speakers,

8.Rolls Royce Avoids a Pantsload

Rolls Silver Mist

Kudos: This company actually avoided an embarrasing moment that his hit others (ie Clairol Mist, Irish Mist). Rolls Royce changed the name of its car the Silver Mist to the Silver Shadow before entering Germany. In German, “Mist” means manure (to put it nicely). Don’t believe it? Go *here* and translate “mist” from German to English. Basically, anything with Mist in the English name just is not going to fly in a German market – kudos to RR for actually figuring this out.

7. Samarin Cartoon Reads the Wrong Way


Samarin is a Swedish over-the-counter remedy for upset stomachs, similar to Alka-Seltzer. A few years back they used ads that looked like comic strips with no text. There were three pictures. The first was a man looking sick, grasping his tummy. On the second picture he drank a glass of Samarin and on the third picture he was smiling again. The ad campaign was a success in Europe. However, when the company ran the ad in Arabic-speaking newspapers they did not do too well. I guess that they didn’t know that in those countries people read from right to left….oops.



In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water, apparently by mistake, and allegedly having nothing to do with the variety of beverages that Tonic can mix with.

5.Toyota MR2

toyota mr2

Toyota makes the MR2, which in France is pronounced merd or spelled merdeux, means crappy. I guess you really can say, “Man, this car is da’ sh*t!”.

4. Car Rental

car rental

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: “When passengers of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor.” Really, don’t you just love what those automated translation programs spit out? Taking that output is fine, but if you are going to target English speaking customers, try at least to find an English speaker to proofread before printing – seriously.

3. Hallmark Cards in France


Actually this is more a story of Hallmark out of France. The core value of Hallmark is not just in providing a card to give but is in the message that the card conveys. Hallmark is famous for their slogans, which have been spoofed for being sickly sweet and syrupy, but they work. People buy them. Except in France. Apparently the French, as a cultural statement, prefer to write their own messages in their cards, and they do not particularly like to overly-dripping sweetness of the Hallmark words or pictures. After only a couple of months, Hallmark quietly withdraw from the French market, as they had not properly researched and understood cultural differences and their impact on international business expansion. They must have missed that day in Biz 101 class.

2. Snapple Goes Corporate


In 1994, the funky and slightly off-beat Snapple brand was acquired by teh Quaker oats Company for a mere $1.7 billion. A pretty good investment, thought Quaker, as the beverage had created the Ready To Drink iced tea category – hard to imagine, but the RTD Tea drink not exist before Snapple – and had quickly rocketed to success. Quaker knew all about food and beverage marketing, after all they Gatorade as their claim to fame in the beverage world. However, what Quaker failed to understand is that marketing really does matter, and you cant rubber stamp what works for one on to another, especially with such fundamental differences as existed between the Snapple and Gatorade brands. The distribution channels were different and the customer bases were miles apart. Long story short,Quaker’s’ attempts at marketing the Snapple beverage were so dismal, that the company ended up throwing in the towel and selling the company for $300 million, a fraction of what they originally paid. Cadbury Schweppes acquired Snapple Beverage Group in 2000.

1.Gorilla Marketing is OK; Terrorist Marketing Not So Much

boston bomb scare lightboard

In 2007, the discovery of nine of the light boards around Boston and its suburbs sent bomb squads scrambling throughout the day, snarling traffic and mass transit in one of the largest US cities. Turner Broadcasting System Inc said the battery-operated light boards were aimed at promoting the late-night Adult Swim cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and had no intention of creating widespread panic. The devices had been placed around Boston and nine other major US cities as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the show. One person who came across one of the boards commented that, It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it and wires. See the full story here.

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