Lost in Translation: Common translation mistakes brands make when going global

Trademarks are an essential part of a company's brand identity and serve as a means of differentiation from competitors. When a business expands into new international markets, it is crucial to ensure that its trademarks are accurately translated and culturally appropriate.


Jan Buza

Importance of trademark translation

When a business starts offering goods and services globally, it is essential to register its trademarks in the markets where it plans to operate. This is because trademarks are territorial, which means that a trademark registered in one country does not necessarily provide protection in another country. Therefore, in order to protect its brand identity and prevent competitors from using similar marks, a business should register its trademarks in each market where it plans to operate.

In addition to registering its trademarks, it is important for a business to appropriately translate its trademarks into the languages of these markets. An improper or inaccurate translation of a trademark can lead to confusion, misinterpretation, and even legal issues in the new market. There are several issues that can arise from poorly translated or transliterated trademarks when a business expands internationally. These include:

  1. Loss of brand identity: Poorly translated or transliterated trademarks can lead to confusion and misinterpretation among customers, which can result in a loss of brand identity. Customers may not be able to recognize the brand or may mistake it for another brand, which can be damaging to the business's reputation.

  2. Negative connotations: A trademark that is translated incorrectly or inappropriately can have negative connotations in the new market's language or culture. This can result in negative publicity and damage to the brand's reputation.

  3. Legal issues: In some cases, a poorly translated or transliterated trademark can infringe on the trademark rights of another business in the new market. This can result in legal disputes and potentially expensive legal action.

  4. Difficulty in marketing and advertising: A poorly translated or transliterated trademark can make it difficult for a business to market and advertise its products or services effectively in the new market. This can result in lower sales and revenue for the business.

  5. Inability to register trademarks: Some countries require that trademarks be translated or transliterated in a specific way in order to be registered. If a business's trademark is not properly translated or transliterated, it may not be able to be registered in the new market.

There have been several high-profile cases of businesses not properly translating their trademarks when expanding internationally. Here are a few examples:


When Coca-Cola first entered the Chinese market, its trademark was translated as "Ke-kou-ke-la," which roughly translates to "bite the wax tadpole." This was due to a mistranslation of the brand's name and a lack of cultural understanding. Coca-Cola eventually rebranded its name to "Kekoukele" (可口可乐), which translates to "delicious happiness", a more culturally appropriate and recognizable name in China. Coca-Cola also tailored its marketing approach to better appeal to Chinese consumers, which helped the brand to establish a strong presence in the Chinese market.


When KFC first expanded to the Chinese market, it faced several challenges with the translation of its trademark and brand name. One of the main challenges was the translation of its famous slogan "finger-lickin' good." When the slogan was directly translated to Chinese, it became "吮指原味" (shǔn zhǐ yuán wèi), which means "suck your fingers original flavor." This direct translation did not accurately convey the original meaning of the slogan and was not culturally appropriate for Chinese consumers.

To overcome this challenge, KFC worked with local linguists and marketing experts to find culturally appropriate translations for its brand name and slogan in Chinese. The brand changed its slogan to "好吃到舔手指" (hǎo chī dào tiǎn shǒu zhǐ), which means "so delicious, you'll lick your fingers." This translation captured the essence of the original slogan and was more appealing to Chinese consumers.


The Mitsubishi Pajero is a full-size SUV (sport utility vehicle) manufactured and marketed globally by Mitsubishi over four generations — introduced in 1981 and discontinued in 2021. The Pajero has generated more than 3.3 million sales in its 40-year run. When Mitsubishi introduced its Pajero model in Spanish-speaking countries, the name had to be changed to "Montero" because "Pajero" is a slang term for "wanker" in Spanish. Mitsubishi marketed the SUV as the Montero in North America, Spain and Latin America (except for Brazil and Jamaica), due to "pajero" being a derogative term (Masturbator) in Spanish, and as the Shogun (将軍) in the United Kingdom, named after the Japanese word for "General".

These examples show the importance of properly translating and localizing trademarks when expanding into new international markets. A lack of cultural understanding and proper translation can lead to confusion, negative connotations, and damage to a business's brand identity and reputation. It is crucial for businesses to work with professional translators and legal experts to ensure that their trademarks are accurately translated and legally protected in each new market.

Jan Buza
Jan Buza

Product Mind

Helped scale portfolio firms for a VC fund

CEMS Prague

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