No. This isn't another one of those #Ads for Grammarly which has been stalking you across the web.  

Every few years a marketing faux-pas surfaces which is so brilliantly awful, you have to wonder whether it was designed to go viral.

The soft drinks companies seem to do it best. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola have, over the years, inadvertently struck the wrong chord with various consumers around the world.

First, Pepsi mistranslated "Pepsi brings you back to life" to something akin to "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" - missing its goal to evoke a youthful energy vibe by some considerable distance, no doubt.  

Rumour also has it that in Coca-Cola's first foray into China, the characters it chose for its local brand were similarly problematic.  Whilst phonetically accurate (pronounced "ke kou le la") the chosen characters could also be read locally as "bite the wax tadpole".  ... An acquired taste, perhaps?

This sort of translation guff, you would have thought, must surely have taught Coca-Cola a lesson never to be forgotten.  Except it seemingly has forgotten, and in spectacular fashion.

Earlier this month Coca-Cola caused giggles across social media channels when it branded vending machines in New Zealand with the phrase “Kia Ora, Mate”.   (Yes, millennials, Kia Ora is the name of another drink which is sold by Coca-Cola in the UK, but that is not the guff here).   The issue here is that, as it turns out, mixing "Kia Ora" with "mate" creates a marketing message which means "hello death" in Te Reo Māori (the Eastern Polynesian language spoken by Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand) .  The irony of associating sugary drinks with premature death has not been lost on users across the Twittersphere, helping to solidify this guff's place in the branding hall of shame for years to come.  Probably not what marketing execs were going for. 

And this is how it happens.  Coca-Cola probably did take localisation advice and settled on Kia Ora as a positive, aspirational message designed to attract Maori speakers.  But then, perhaps at the last minute, somebody decided to "tweak it".  You can imagine the meeting in which the decision to add "mate" took place. "Genius," they probably thought, as wording like mate: increases approachability and familiarity flashed across the PowerPoint presentation at the Coca-Cola marketing meeting. "Bang on, mate" they probably said, as they clinked their Coca-Cola bottles in celebration.    This happens all too often - branding teams mean well and start off methodically, but months later decide to go in a different direction when there may not be enough time or energy to follow best practice.  


Whilst dwindling budgets may make it tempting for marketing teams to overlook thorough localisation advice, investing in a network of trained, native speakers around the world is a real need-to-have.  Taking a moment to step back from your brand and to make sure you've taken the advice you need can make the difference between local brands which hit the mark, and those pre-empting the death of marketing, or legal, careers.