Brand blunder

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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.

True cases[edit]

  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[2][3]
  • 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.[4][5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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.[7]
  • 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 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. [8]
  • 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".[9][10][11]
  • Ayds diet candy launching a mass marketing campaign just before the start of, and continuing through the early years of, the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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: Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux sold products successfully in the United Kingdom using the slogan "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux". The slang disparagement "sucks", originating in American English, was not current in British English at that time, so many Americans think this is an example of such a blunder.[12] The Electrolux slogan used in the UK was produced by the English agency Cogent Elliot, not a Scandinavian marketer.
  • 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".[13] A similar claim has been made for the "Coke adds life" slogan, with the target market listed as anything from Taiwan to Thailand[14] to Japan.[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • 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.[17] 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.
  • 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.[18]
  • Fake ads, often with sexually explicit content such as one for PUMA[19][20] and an even less plausible pedophilia-themed one for Breyers,[21][22] have attracted attention and even official responses from the company denying affiliation.[23]


  1. ^ Starbucks' 'Collapse into Cool' Campaign[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Weight Watchers Rethinks Its Duchess Of York Campaign[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Fergie Ads Pulled by Weight Watchers Archived April 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Sony ad provokes race accusations Archived June 24, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Is this offensive to you? The Lilith Effect[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Gillies, Rob (2008-08-06). "Greyhound scraps ad campaign after Canada bus beheading". USA Today. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  7. ^ 'Bullet in the chamber' Nike ad pulled from Oscar Pistorius' website Archived February 28, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Fitta blev dyr affär för Honda
  9. ^ "How this cute Ikea doll became a symbol of protest in Hong Kong". that's Online. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  10. ^ Chan, Yuen (9 December 2013). "IKEA Toy Wolf Becomes Unlikely Anti-Government Symbol in Hong Kong". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  11. ^ McBain, Sophie (10 December 2013). "How Lufsig the cuddly wolf became a Hong Kong protest symbol – A short lesson in the art of mistranslating names into Chinese." Archived November 30, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. The New Statesman.
  12. ^ "Game over, here are the Ad Trivia Quiz answers". 2005-04-08. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  13. ^ "Pepsi Brings Back Ancestors". Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-12-17. Retrieved 2014-11-08. 
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-10. Retrieved 2014-11-08. 
  16. ^ "Bite the Wax Tadpole". Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  17. ^ "Nova Don't Go". Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-12-19. Retrieved 2015-01-06. 
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-26. Retrieved 2013-02-19.  Puma's Problem The racy photo that's got a sneaker company steamed
  20. ^ Fake Puma Ad Mystery Solved Archived July 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ The Ice Cream For Pedophiles Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ ‘Lickable’ Breyers Ad Archived July 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ Sexually Explicit PUMA Ads Are Fake, Company Says Archived September 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.

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