Brand blunder

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Brand blunder refers to the goof-ups associated with the branding of a product, especially a new product in a new market. There could be many reasons for such slips. For example, the lack of understanding of the language, culture, consumer attitude etc.

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.

True cases[edit]

  • Mitsubishi Pajero: The word "pajero" is a slang term in some Latin American dialects of Spanish for "wanker",[1] so the vehicle was called the "Montero" when sold in some Spanish-speaking countries.[2]
  • 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.[3]
  • 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 Princess Diana, an incident in which paparazzi were at the time suspected to have played a role. The company quickly pulled the ads.[4][5]
  • 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.[6][7]
  • 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.[8]
  • "Kiri", a brand of cheese from the French company Groupe Bel was renamed to "Kibi" in the Iranian market because in Persian the word "kiri" refers to the penis, but is also used to describe something rotten or rank.[9]
  • 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 Cantonese word meaning "vagina"; the name itself could be written as Lo Mo Hai (老母閪), meaning "mother's vagina".[10][11][12]

Urban legends[edit]

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, are rarely backed up by researched data about sales.

  • Electrolux: Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the United Kingdom using the slogan "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux". The slang disparagement "sucks" is an example of Americanism, so many Americans think this is an example of such a blunder.[13]
  • Pepsi: Pepsi allegedly introduced their slogan into the Chinese market "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into Chinese it read "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave".[14]
  • 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 "female horse stuffed with wax" (骒马口蠟). Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele (pinyin romanization; 可口可乐), which roughly means "let your mouth rejoice". It was never marketed by the company using the other phrases, though individual merchants may have made such signs.[15]
  • An urban legend holds that the Chevrolet Nova automobile sold poorly in Latin America, as "no va" means "won't go" in Spanish. In truth, the car sold well.[16] The same has been said of the Vauxhall Nova, which had to be sold as an Opel Corsa in Spain. In fact this too is a myth, with the Spanish market offering being known as a Corsa from the outset.
  • Fake ads, often with sexually explicit content such as one for PUMA[17][18] and an even less plausible pedophilia-themed one for Breyers[19][20] have attracted attention and even official responses from the company denying affiliation.[21]


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