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The Chevy Nova That Didn't Go

Other Alleged Advertising Blunders Using the Spanish Language


Nescafé in Caracas

A giant Nescafé mug promotes the brand in Caracas, Venezuela.

Photo by Paulino Moran; licensed via Creative Commons.

Here are some of the other stories that are circulating about advertising or marketing blunders involving the Spanish language. Unfortunately, although many of these tales seem unlikely (since major companies would test any ad campaign or product name with native speakers before using it) and are probably urban legends, most are difficult to prove or disprove. If you can ever find an advertising poster or something similar with any of these alleged blunders, please contact me.

Vulgar pen
Story: Parker Pen intended to use the slogan "it won't stain your pocket and embarrass you," to emphasize how its pens wouldn't leak, translating it as "no manchará tu bolsillo, ni te embarazará. But embarazar" means "to be pregnant" rather than "to embarrass." So the slogan was understood as "it won't stain your pocket and get you pregnant."
Comment: Anyone who learns much about Spanish learns quickly about such common mistakes as confusing embarazada ("pregnant") for "embarrassed." For a professional to make this translating mistake seems highly unlikely.

Wrong kind of milk
Story: A Spanish version of the "Got Milk?" campaign used "¿Tienes leche?," which can be understood as "Are you lactating?"
Comment: This might have happened, but no verification has been found. Many such promotional campaigns are locally run, making it more likely this understandable mistake could have been made.

Bad beer
Story: Coors translated the slogan "turn it loose" in such a way that it was understood as slang for "suffer from diarrhea."
Comment: Reports differ on whether Coors used the phrase "suéltalo con Coors" (literally, "let it go loose with Coors") or "suéltate con Coors" (literally, "set yourself free with Coors"). The fact that accounts don't agree make it seem unlikely that the mistake actually happened.

No-coffee coffee
Story: Nestlé was unable to sell Nescafé instant coffee in Latin America because the name is understood as "No es café" or "It isn't coffee."
Comment: Unlike most of the other accounts, this story is demonstrably false. Nestlé not only sells instant coffee under that name in Spain and Latin America, it also operates coffeeshops with that name. Also, while consonants are often softened in Spanish, vowels are usually distinct, so nes is unlikely to be confused for no es.

Misplaced affection
Story: A slogan for Frank Perdue chicken, "it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken," was translated as the equivalent of "it takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate."
Comment: Like "tender," tierno can mean either "soft" or "affectionate." The accounts differ on the phrase used to translate "a strong man." One account uses the phrase un tipo duro (literally, "a hard chap"), which seems extremely unlikely.

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