Fun Stuff

Bits and bobs that don't fit in elsewhere will either end up here or on my Freelance Copywriter UK Blog

International Advertising - the Biggest Howlers of All Time

Writing copy for international markets is a tricky business. I know - I do it myself. It's essential that a native speaker checks any translated copy before it's let loose on the public. Sometimes, though, even the biggest of brands can get it wrong. Here are the top twenty translation (t)errors I've come across:

1. The slogan for Frank Perdue chicken products "it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."
2. Schweppes Tonic Water was translated into Italian as "Schweppes Toilet Water." Oh Scchh*t!
3. Still on the scatological, the Coors slogan "Turn it loose," in Spanish became "Suffer from diarrhoea."
4. Cue toothpaste was sold in France by Colgate-Palmolive... until they learned that Cue was also the name of a well-known porn magazine.
5. An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the potato" (la papa).
6. Cars seem to offer a particular blind spot for advertisers. My favourite is the Chevrolet Nova. Here in the UK, it's the Vauxhall Nova. No problem there, but in Spain the Nova wasn't quite so popular. 'No va' means 'doesn't go'.
7. GM cars: Originally sold in Belgium using the slogan, "Body by Fisher," which translated as "Corpse by Fisher."
8. Not to be outdone, Ford marketed the Ford Caliente in Mexico, until they found out "caliente" is slang for 'streetwalker' and changed its name to S-22.
9. Even as grand a brand as Rolls Royce can make mistakes. The Rolls-Royce Silver Mist never sold well in Germany. Perhaps because In German, mist means "human waste."
10. Clairol fell...erm foul of the same problem when they introduced the "Mist Stick," a curling iron, into Germany.
11. Sometimes you can still get it wrong even when words aren't involved. When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since most people can't read English.
12. The US Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"
13. Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into Chinese became "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave".
14. The Big Mac was originally sold in France under the name Gros Mec. In French, that translates as 'big pimp'.
15. When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read: "it won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". Unfortunately, the company thought that the word "embarazar" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ads read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
16. Still on pens, Parker Pens had a model called The Jotter. This rather bemused consumers in some South American countries, where jotter is slang for 'jockstrap'.
17. When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly In Leather" campaign literally. Unfortunately, 'vuela en cuero' translated as 'fly naked'.
18. For some reason, Puffs Tissues failed to clean up in Germany. Then someone realised that Puff is German slang for 'brothel'.
19. The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, 'Salem - Feeling Free', was translated for the Japanese market as: "When smoking Salem, you will feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."
20. Finally, here's one just to show how marketers can get it wrong even when dealing with the (supposedly) same language. Following great success with a tagline in the UK, Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux decided to use it in America: 'Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.' Well, the sales certainly did...

If you know of any famous examples of marketing mistakes I've missed, please let me know. And if you happen to need an advertising concept suitable for international markets, get in touch. (Just don't ask me to guarantee the translation.)

Sorry to disappoint you...

Top 10 weird search strings that have led people to my website:

1. Goofy women
2. Cruise services
3. Disney fire or work
4. Xerox Tom
5. Work
6. Women's mags
7. Guinness
8. Chevy Caliente and Clairol Mist Stick
9. Toothbrushes
10. Lactating women

Top 10 clichéd images in advertising

Images can be just as clichéd as phrases. Here are some real groaners.

1. People in suits doing boring things - like looking at computers, taking off glasses, or shaking hands with other people in suits.
2. People in suits doing silly things - like punching the air, dancing, or bending over backwards.
3. Using your own staff in ads. Good for morale, maybe. Good for business, rarely.
4. The head of the company appearing in his or her own ads. It can just about work in the US if the person concerned has the right personality and is photogenic enough. In the UK, steer clear. Please.
5. Italian mamas or mafiosi (or if they're really pushing the boat out mafiosi mamas) who always make-a da best pizza / pasta / ice cream.
6. Gratuitous use of skimpily clad models / cute animals. Need I say more?
7. Stupid, incompetent men. Once upon a time it was women who were portrayed this way, now it's the guys. Oh well.
8. Customer testimonials delivered by couples. - usually sitting on sofas and surrounded by pot plants.
9. Men and women in white coats. Preferably with glasses. And a clipboard.
10. Using pop songs whose lyrics have a tenuous relationship to the product. All right, so it's not an image as such. But it's become so omnipresent that it is a cliché. And over the years it's ruined my image of what many a song stands for.

10 things that only ever happen in ads

1. New cars are never stuck in traffic jams. In fact they're usually the only vehicle on the road.
2. People who drive everywhere in their car are, nevertheless, ultra thin.
3. Ads for wrinkle cream feature models with near perfect skin.
4. All call centres are staffed by happy smiling people who love their job.
5. Alcohol is only consumed by three guys together, or occasionally couples - never by someone on their own.
6. Driving is deeply pleasurable, never boring or stressful.
7. Children know more than adults.
8. People who eat cereal empty the waxed bag of cereal into the cardboard box first, yet it miraculously never goes stale.
9. Products are 'chemical-free', yet don't seem to exist as a pure quantum-particle free vacuum.
10. Old people always have a bath in their swimming costumes

Copywriting and copyrighting- how to tell the difference

When you write copy you have the right to copyright the copy you write - do you copy? You can write well and copyright but copyright doesn't mean your copy is good - it might not be right good copy.
Now, writers of religious services write rite (as is their right), and thus also have the right to copyright the rite they write.

Conservatives write right copy, and have the right to copyright the right copy they write. A right wing cleric might write right rite, and have the right to copyright the right rite he has the right to write. His editor has the job of making the right rite copy right before the copyright would be right (Nobody in his right mind would do otherwise).

By contrast, progressives write right-on copy (often attacking the right) and libertarians think we have the right to do just about anything, right or wrong. But they too have the right to copyright the copy they write.

Should Thom Wright decide to write, then Wright might write right rite, which Wright has a right to copyright. Copying that rite would copy Wright's right rite, and thus violate copyright, so Wright would have the legal right to right the wrong.

Legal people write writs, which is a right, all right, and all writs, copied or not, are writs that are copyright. By right, judges make writers write writs right.

Copywriters (aka copy writers) write copy which is copyright the copy writer's company, not the right of the copywriter to copyright (unless they haven't been paid, in which case they retain all rights to it by right and can issue a writ). But the copy written is copyrighted as written, right?

So wrongfully copying a right writ, a right rite or copy writer's copy is not right.


(Lest you think I'm just a copycat (which wouldn't be right), the above was adapted and extended from copy by Scott Simmerman…who himself adapted some original copy by Shelley Herman.)

The (nearly) ultimate perverse rules of good writing

For those of you who prefer to do your own copywriting, or are starting out as a copywriter, there are a few basic rules to follow. Well, lots actually. I make no claim to be the originator of most of the rules below, but it's as complete and up-to-date a list as I can make it. Many, especially those marked with an asterisk, are not immutable rules.

1. Always avoid affected, awkward alliteration
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. *
3. Avoid clichés like the plague - they're old hat.
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
8. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive. *
9. Contractions aren't necessary.*
10. Do not use a foreign word when there is an adequate English
quid pro quo.
11. If you must use a foreign term, it is de rigour to spell it
12. One should never generalise.
13. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "I
hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
14. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
15. Try not to use colloquial stuff.
16. Refrain from being indirect.
17. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's
highly superfluous.
18. It is encumbent on us to avoid archaic expressions.
19. Avoid archaeic spellings too.
20. Understatement is always best.
21. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
22. One-word sentences? Eliminate. Always!
23. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
24. The passive voice should not be used. *
25. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors - even if
a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
27. Never insult those morons that make up your readership.
28. Don't repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
30. The writer should not annoy half of his readers by using
gender-specific language.
31. Don't use commas, that, are not, necessary.
32. Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it
33. Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would
34. Subject and verb always has to agree.
35. Be more or less specific.
36. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
37. Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch
typograhpical errers. .
38. Don't repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before,
avoid being repetitive and don't use tautological pleonasms.
39. Don't be redundant.
40. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its
not needed.
41. Don't never use no double negatives.
42. Poofread carefully to see if you any letters or words out.
43. Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how
others use them.
44. Eschew obfuscation.
45. No sentence fragments.
46. Abstraction is to be avoided.
47. Don't indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
48. A writer must not shift your point of view.
49. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
50. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long
sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
51. Puns are only ok if they are current puns.
52. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
53. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking
verb is.
54. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
55. Always pick on the correct idiom.
56. The adverb always follows the verb.
57. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation' "marks."'"
58. It is recommended that measures should be taken to ensure that
the length of sentences is not excessive and that the
complexity of said sentences is reduced.
59. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is
appropriate; and never where it isn't.
60. And always be sure to finish what