Board Tested, Company Approved

Some signs do not inspire confidence
Some signs do not inspire confidence
We live in an information age. It’s relatively easy for someone to test ideas, look at precedents and ascertain comments without once leaving home. Many companies set up password protected pages for their employees so they can look at, and comment on, concepts before they go public. It’s a very cost effective way to do market research. Because what seems like a great idea in a bourbon soaked board room may not get the anticipated reception from the working masses. Just ask the nice people who released Zombie Jerky. Much to their surprise the USDA took umbrage with the biohazard label festooned on the package. While the product may be whimsical, it’s still food and telling people they’re eating radioactive waste tends to cause problems. Although the caveat “Not made with human flesh” was accepted because, as you may not have known, jerky isn’t made with human flesh.

Yeah, I’m sorry, I know you’re bummed.

Nevertheless, before we go tear apart this week’s biggest idiot, I’d like to take a moment to look at some of history’s greatest marketing blunders.

In the mid-70’s Chevrolet released the Nova in Mexico to a resounding thud. “No Va” in Spanish means “No Go.”


The Dairy Association’s huge success with the campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?”

Teenage boys thought this slogan was great.

Coors put its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer From Diarrhea”.

Finally, truth in advertising.

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”.

Not even Wanda from the cheer squad? I demand proof!

Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick,” a curling iron with a name that translated into “manure.”

Well, that would curl my hair.

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what’s inside, since many people can’t read.

“Look mommy! I got the white kid! They taste just like chicken!”

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called “Cue”, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

“You want me to put WHAT on my teeth?”

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).

In their defense, it was a very nice potato.

Pepsi’s “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave” in Chinese.

What is it with companies and zombies? Did I miss a memo somewhere?

The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela”,meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokou kole”, translating into “happiness in the mouth”.

And that still sounds dirty.

Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

I have several friends who can attest to that.

When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” The company thought that the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

I see a brief anatomy lesson in their future.

When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its “Fly In Leather” campaign literally, which meant “Fly Naked” (vuela en cuero) in Spanish.

Thanks to the TSA we’ll probably be doing that anyway, may as well get ahead of the curve.

You would think that in this age of easy access to past humiliations, someone somewhere in Indiana might have mentioned that this new ad campaign had some flaws. Maybe not. After all, this is the state that is home to the dumbest city in America. And, given the competition, that’s quite an accomplishment.

So maybe it should come as no surprise that MSNBC notes that the Hacienda Restaurant chain compared their fine dining to committing mass suicide while stoked with faux-religious fervor.

Yeah, I bet you’re hungry already.

A northern Indiana restaurant that erected billboards referring to the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre in which more than 900 people died has removed the signs following complaints that the signs were offensive.

Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, acknowledged that the billboards were a mistake. He said the South Bend-based company ordered the signs removed less than two weeks into Hacienda’s new advertising campaign.

“Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed — and there’s a difference,” Leslie told the South Bend Tribune. “We have a responsibility to (advertise) with care, and that’s why we’re pulling this ad. We made a mistake and don’t want to have a negative image in the community.”

The billboards included the statement, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid,” over a glass containing a mixed drink, as well as the phrase “To die for!”

In November 1978, more than 900 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple drank cyanide-laced, grape-flavored punch in a mass murder and suicide in the group’s compound in Guyana.

Patricia Barbera-Brown of South Bend, who lives a few blocks away from one of the billboards, said she was so shocked when she initially read the message that she drove around the block.

“I thought perhaps I had misread the sign,” she recalls. “It brought back quite a few horrible images and memories, and the very notion that a local restaurant would trivialize such a worldwide tragedy to simply increase their sales of cocktails is outrageous to me, and it offended me to the core.”

She sent an e-mail to Hacienda’s executive telling them the billboards weren’t “funny at all,” calling them “extremely offensive and very irresponsible marketing.”

Hacienda executives responded in writing, apologizing for offending her and informing her that the billboards would be taken down.

Like many restaurant companies, Leslie said Hacienda uses billboard advertising to connect with the community and resonate with customers. He said that company leaders look every year at their restaurants, the economy, their customers, and the competition to determine an idea or theme to use for advertising.

As they brainstormed about how people belong to clubs and teams, he said they discussed how an entity can develop a cult following of like-minded people.

“It went the wrong direction, hit a nerve, and we have come to realize we should not have done this billboard. We lose the core message,” he said.

Katherine Sredl, assistant professor of marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, agreed that the company’s message came across wrong.

“They want people to think there are more things to love there than the food, but it’s not the right humor for its clientele,” she said.

Really? They went from thinking about their local Rotary Club to Jim Jones? They somehow discovered the fine line between liking a Ford Truck and walling yourself off in an anti-social compound, and then crossed it?

What the hell was in their Kool-Aid?

One quick side note before you watch the video; before he was STATIC X, Heavy Metal Superstar, he was Wayne, a really nice guy with some great songs. I knew him then and we’re still in touch now. One thing he’s not, however, is stupid. Okay, now you can go enjoy his song.

Static X – I'm With Stupid

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