Brand blunder

Error in advertising that could be potentially offensive or vulgar

The French fizzy drink brand Pschitt (opening sound of a soda can) might not be interpreted as so in English

A brand blunder is an error associated with the branding of a product, especially a new product in a new market. Reasons for such slips include the lack of understanding of the language, culture and consumer attitudes in the new market.

There are numerous examples of brand blunders in marketing history; there are also numerous urban legends surrounding brand blunders, where there is little evidence of an actual blunder.

A Colombian van branded with Bimbo bread

Examples of brand names which have proved unsuitable for use in English-speaking countries have included:

Alu-Fanny, a French aluminium foil
Barfy, a brand of frozen hamburgers in Argentina
Bimbo, a Mexican brand of bread
Calpis, a Japanese soft drink
Crapsy Fruit, a French breakfast cereal
Atum Bom, a Portuguese brand of tinned tuna
Spunk, Danish confectionery
Kräpp, Swedish toilet paper (Swedish language pronunciation of crepe)
Kum Onit, a German make of pencil sharpeners
Plopp, a Swedish chocolate bar
Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink
Poo, type of curry powder in Argentina
Pschitt, a French fizzy soft drink
A number of Belgian beer brands, such as Silly, Prik, Slag, La Plope, Pee Klak and Witte Dikke

Brand names and advertising campaigns which have proved controversial in recent years have included the following instances:

In 1997, the sportswear company Reebok introduced a women\'s running shoe called \"Incubus\"; the company was forced to recall the product when it was called to their attention that an incubus is a mythical male demon that rapes women in their sleep.
A 1997 direct mailer from Weight Watchers featuring Sarah Ferguson, with a caption stating that losing weight was \"harder than outrunning the paparazzi\", appeared in mailboxes in the days before and following the death of Ferguson\'s former sister-in-law Princess Diana, an incident in which paparazzi were at the time suspected to have played a role. The company quickly pulled the ads.
An April 2002 Starbucks ad featured twin cups of their Tazo drinks with the caption \"Collapse into cool\" and an airborne dragonfly, imagery and wording which reminded many of the recent 9/11 attacks. Though the ads were created before the attacks and the resemblance was coincidental, the company apologized and pulled the posters.
In 2005 the electronics company Nintendo brought to market in South Korea an electronic dictionary for children named Touch Dic; it was subsequently renamed Touch Dictionary as the name sounded too similar to the slang term \"dick\".
In 2006, Sony had a limited Dutch billboard campaign promoting the then-upcoming arrival of the white PlayStation Portable by featuring a black woman and white woman with respectively colored clothing and hair in confrontational poses. After accusations of racism, Sony pulled the ads.
In 2008, Greyhound Canada hastily pulled the slogan \"There\'s a reason you\'ve never heard of \'bus rage\'\" after Tim McLean was murdered and beheaded by fellow passenger Vince Weiguang Li aboard a bus in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
A Nike ad on Oscar Pistorius\' website used the caption \"I am the bullet in the chamber\" and was pulled in 2013 after his arrest in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The Toyota MR2 sounded unusual in French
The Honda Jazz was initially named the Honda Fitta. However, when marketing collateral reached the Swedish office of the company, it was pointed out that fitta is a vulgar slang term for \"vagina\" in Swedish and Norwegian. The model was renamed \"Jazz\" for most markets, with the name \"Fit\" being used in Japan, China, and the Americas. Similarly, Mitsubishi found that the name of its Pajero model was the same as the Spanish term for \"wanker\"; and the name of the Toyota MR2, when spoken in French, bore an uncomfortable phonetic similarity to the French word merde, meaning \"shit\". German manufacturer Audi launched the e-tron electric car sub-brand in concept cars in 2009 and in production models in 2018, despite the French word \"étron\" meaning \"crap\". Hyundai Kona, a compact SUV made by Hyundai, which means \"Hyundai is facing agonizing death\" or \"Hyundai is dying\" in Polish, and \"Kona\" itself sounds like \"konak\" (erection) in Indonesian expletives or \"cona\" (vagina) in Portuguese, although Hyundai Kona was phased out in Indonesia and replaced by Hyundai Creta instead and Hyundai sold Hyundai Kona as Hyundai Kauai in several countries. Also, in 2020, the Renault Arkana SUV was renamed Renault Mégane Conquest in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, after the local Renault subsidiary objected to the similarity with the nickname of Serbian mobster and warlord Željko Ražnatović \"Arkan\". Earlier unfortunate car model name choices that were not rectified include Alfa Romeo MiTo (mito means \"bribe\" in several South Slavic languages) and Ford Kuga (\"bubonic plague\").
A name given by IKEA\'s Chinese website for its stuffed wolf toy Lufsig, Lo Mo Sai (路姆西), contained a homophone of Hai (閪), a profane Cantonese word meaning \"vagina\"; the name itself could be written as Lo Mo Hai (老母閪), meaning \"mother\'s vagina\".
Swiss beverage brand Schweppes were quick to pull a campaign in Italy promoting its Indian tonic water under the name \"Il water\", which means \"the toilet\" in Italian. The name \"Tonica\" was chosen instead.
Ayds diet suppressant candy, which had existed for decades prior, continued to use this phonetically identical brand name through the 1980s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic continued to grow. In 1985–1986, use of the name was in fact defended by executives of the company that manufactured it, as a boon to sales. Sales eventually plummeted, and the product name was changed in 1988–1989.
In 2011, an internal leak of the Dell Latitude ST tablet (codenamed Peju) spread virally on the internet and received some attention in Indonesia, since peju means sperm in Indonesian expletives.
In 2012, a clothing store named \"Hitler\" opened in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The store immediately became embroiled in an international controversy over its association with the German Nazi-era leader, Adolf Hitler.
Kiri cheese, produced by Bel Group, was rebranded as \"Kibi\" in Iran because of the derogatory meaning of kiri in Persian for male genitalia and rotten or rank.
Nokia\'s Lumia brand translates to prostitute in Spanish but is an uncommon word with Romani roots.
Apple\'s Siri personal assistant pronunciation in Japan as \"shiri\" translates to buttocks, and in Indonesia, siri translates to \"de facto (unregistered) marriage\".
The World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view event Elimination Chamber carries a different name in Germany, \"No Escape\", in order to avoid associations with the Holocaust.
In 2019, Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Heinz\'s latest \'Mayochup\' product (a portmanteau of mayonnaise and ketchup) means \"shit-face\" in Cree. The incident went viral on Twitter.
In 2019, Kontool, a BI software based in Germany, decided to use another name in Indonesia since Kontool sounds like kontol (penis) in Indonesian slang.
In 2020, Bank Artos renamed itself unto Bank Jago, however it went viral in Indonesia, since pronunciation of Bank Jago is similar to bang jago (an ad hominem rhetorical tactic in Indonesian slang to end any argument in a passive-aggressive way).
After the 2017 Boston Marathon, participants received an email from Nike. The subject line read, \"Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!\", wording which reminded many of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. A public apology soon followed.
Telaso, a brand for various products, is an expletive on Southern and Western Celebes language which means smegma.
Phanteks, a Dutch PC chassis manufacturer. Although Phanteks should be pronounced as \"fan-techs\". Indonesian people pronounce it as \"Panteks\" (pronounced as \"pun-techs\") in which Pantek is an expletive in Sumatran Malay (Minangkabau, Ocu, Palembang, Pasisi, etc.) and Maduranese language meaning \"fuck you\".
Sangean, a Taiwanese consumer electronic brand which means too easy to sexually aroused in Indonesian expletives.
ITIL, an IT activities, and Itel Mobile, a mobile phone manufacturer which means vulva in Indonesian expletive.
BEGO, a dental health industry and Daihatsu Be‣go, crossover made by Daihatsu which means retarded in Indonesian expletives.
MeMeX, a darknet search engine which sounds similar with memek (vagina) in Indonesian expletives.

The internet

The rise of the internet has provided new ways for marketers to interact with the public. The resultant seemingly trial-and-error attempts to capitalize on new technologies have resulted in some of the most public brand blunders in recent memory.

A screenshot of the Mountain Dew contest before it was taken down
A 2012 internet promotion for Mountain Dew titled \"Dub the Dew\" was cancelled after the website was compromised by trolls. Participants were supposed to submit and vote on potential names for an apple-flavored variant of Mountain Dew. Instead, the contest, upon discovery by 4chan, was bombarded with unusable and offensive names. The site was taken down quickly and the promotion cancelled, but not before the name \"Hitler did nothing wrong\" reached the No. 1 position and the top of the page was hacked to show a satirical message falsely claiming that the Mossad were responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Nestlé committing blunders twice: In 2012, Nestlé announced the KitKat\'s official Instagram account by posting their first picture on Instagram, a KitKat bear mascot. However, Nestlé took the picture down after backlash due to the KitKat bear\'s resemblance to Pedobear. And in 2014, a DiGiorno tweet using a trending hashtag accidentally injected pizza marketing into an otherwise serious conversation about domestic violence. The reply \"You had pizza\" to the hashtag #WhyIStayed was not well received by the online public and the marketing account made dozens of apology tweets following the incident.

Urban legends

Urban legends about brand blunders are popular, because they use familiar urban legend motifs such as the incompetent corporation or the ignorant foreigner. Often the reality is far less dramatic, and the stories, which are even retold in marketing textbooks as cautionary tales, are rarely backed up by researched data about sales.

Gerber: It was once believed that Africans were horrified over Gerber baby food. Since food containers in Africa often contain what is pictured on their label due to the belief that Africans can\'t read, Africans thought that jars of Gerber baby food, with pictures of infants on their label, contained ground-up infants.
Electrolux: Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the United Kingdom using a slogan produced by the English agency Cogent Elliot: \"Nothing sucks like an Electrolux\". Although many Americans think this is an example of a blunder, in fact the slang disparagement \"sucks\", originating in American English, was not current in British English at that time.
Pepsi: Pepsi allegedly introduced their slogan \"Come alive with the Pepsi Generation\" into the Chinese market. Translated into Chinese, it read \"Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave\". A similar claim has been made for the \"Coke adds life\" slogan, with the target market listed as anything from Taiwan to Thailand to Japan.
Coca-Cola: The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Chinese can sound like the words for \"bite the wax tadpole\" (simplified Chinese: 蝌蚪啃蜡; traditional Chinese: 蝌蚪啃蠟; pinyin: Kēdǒu kěn là) or \"mare stuffed with wax\" (骒马口蠟). Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kěkǒukělè (可口可乐), which roughly means \"let your mouth rejoice\" or \"tasty and enjoyable\". It was never marketed by the company using the other phrases, though individual merchants may have made such signs.
An urban legend holds that the Chevrolet Nova automobile sold poorly in Latin America, as \"no va\" means \"doesn\'t go\" in Spanish. In truth, the car sold well. The same has been said of the Vauxhall Nova, which had to be sold as an Opel Corsa in Spain. This too is a myth, as the car was built in Spain and known there as a Corsa from the outset. The stress of \"Nova\" is quite different from \"no va\", and Spanish speakers would be familiar with Nova as the Latin word for \"new.\" The legend is the equivalent of claiming a furniture set called Notable didn\'t sell well in America because of the name\'s similarity to \"no table\".
Claims that the Buick LaCrosse name in translation becomes the equivalent of \"to cross oneself\", a Quebec French slang term for masturbation, are overstated. Buick initially used the nameplate Allure in Canada in an overabundance of caution when introducing the model in 2005, but abandoned this dual branding early in the 2010 model year. The vehicle now uses the LaCrosse branding in all countries.
Fake ads, often with sexually explicit content such as one for Puma and an even less plausible pedophilia-themed one for Breyers, have attracted attention and even official responses from the company denying affiliation.


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