5 Embarrassing Localization Mistakes Made by Brands

Jan 27, 2017

Content embarrassing localization mistakes

Localization is the process of making your products and services, and your company itself appealing to people in new areas. This usually involves translation, but there’s more to it than that. Websites, advertisements, product packaging, instruction manuals, and other materials must be relatable to new audiences.

Here’s one example. Let’s say that your company has licensed the use of a popular comic strip character. He appears in various places on your website, on the boxes that your products come in, and generally serves as a bit of a mascot. Everybody understands this character’s backstory and personality.

What happens if you start to sell your products in a place where this character is completely unfamiliar. Good localization practices say that you would find a replacement character that is relatable, or perhaps take a different approach entirely.

As you can imagine, failed localization efforts can be embarrassing, offensive, or unintentionally humorous. You’d think that big brands would be on top of this. Well, for the most part they are, but when they slip up the results can leave you shaking your head.

1.Ho Ho Ho Intimidating Green Ogre!

We’ve all seen the commercials featuring The Jolly Green Giant. He’s a friendly figure albeit with a booming voice. The word ‘jolly’ is very important in describing this mascot’s personality.

This is why it was quite embarrassing when the brand realized that it’s beloved character’s name had been translated to Intimidating Green Ogre when they began marketing their products in Saudi Arabia. That certainly is not the image you want when trying to sell frozen vegetables and appeal to parents.

2.The Pen That Caused a Pregnant Pause

Parker is a company that manufactures high quality pens. You know, the kind that come in those fancy, silk lined boxes? Well, when they decided to sell in Mexico, one of their advertising slogans was ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’ (‘catchy’).  Unfortunately, the translators somehow thought that the word embarrass translated into embarazar. This word actually means, to impregnate. People all over Mexico were assured that their pens wouldn’t leak and make them pregnant.

Of course, not all gaffes are funny. Some are offensive and culturally insensitive. It can be very difficult to recover from this. Here are a few examples of these:

3.Using The Wrong Spokesman

Fiat once featured a commercial in which Richard Gere drives one of their vehicles from Hollywood all the way to Tibet. For most people, there was nothing offensive about this. However, the brand did some damage to its reputation in Chinese markets.

In China, Gere is not held in high esteem at all. In fact, his support of Tibet and the Dalai Lama has angered both Chinese citizens and government officials. They found the spot very offensive, and many claimed they would never support this brand.

4.Taboo References

Commercials that are a bit sexually suggestive tend to be a hit in the west. We’ve all seen the Jessica Simpson and Paris  Hilton commercials for Hardees. In the United States and other places, sex definitely sells.

That’s not the case everywhere. In 2009, Burger King released a very suggestive ad in Singapore featuring a model and its extra long cheeseburger. Not only was the ad controversial because the model claimed to have never given permission for her likeness to be used like it was, Singaporeans were taken aback. That kind of imagery was absolutely offensive to them.

5.Man or God

In Malaysia, there are very strict rules relating to advertising. Spots must be filmed in Malaysia, and actors and models must be natives. It is a very religious country as well. This means there are regulations on the way that  models, especially females, must be dressed. In fact, most of the rules are about ensuring that nothing shown breaks religious laws or creates offense.

Seiko created an ad with the slogan ‘Man invented time. Seiko perfected it.’ This seems innocuous enough doesn’t it? Well, it caused a bit of an uproar. The impression many got was that man was given credit for something God had done. So, they were forced to modify it to ‘Man invented timekeeping. Seiko perfected it’


These are just a handful of examples of the things that can happen when companies fail to pay attention to localization when approaching new markets. Everything from pop culture references, to clothing, to color selection, etc. has different meaning in different regions. Even symbols and their meaning can vary from culture to culture. For example, in the United States, the owl is a symbol of wisdom. In India it has very negative connotations. It didn’t make the list, but Pepsi installed light blue vending machines in Southeast Asia. They later learned that light blue is a color associated with death and mourning.