We’ve all been in relationships where communication can be an issue, it goes with the territory—your partner just isn’t you. Communications experts are in the business of clearing away the fog when it comes to communicating a message and making sure the information is clear and understood. Unfortunately it doesn’t always go to plan.
There have been some pretty big communication stuff ups throughout history; some are funny, some have resulted in catastrophic consequences. These are our picks—the best and worst, the tragic and the hilarious.
- When Pepsi moved their products into the Chinese market, it should have been an exciting and lucrative time for Coca Cola’s big rival. Unfortunately, the translators for the multi-billion dollar soft drink empire got things a little bit twisted when it came to marketing the drink.The new slogan developed for the Chinese was intended to be “Pepsi brings you back to life.” It ended up being understood by the Chinese, however, as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” For some, this was a wonderful promise. For others, something to avoid like the plague.
- By mid-1945, Germany had already surrendered to the allies and Japan continued to fight. After the atomic bomb was first dropped on Nagasaki, President Truman issued Japan with the Potsdam Declaration, demanding Japan’s complete and immediate surrender.The Japanese Premier, Kantaro Suzuki replied with the statement “No comment. Japan is still considering it.”
The statement used the word mokusatsu, which has a double meaning, dependant on context. Unfortunately it was translated to the Americans as “We are ignoring your demands in contempt,” and an angry Truman ordered the Hiroshima bomb to be dropped ten days later.
- Visual communication can cause problems too. In 1966 the Beatles turned the world of pop music upside for the wrong reasons. The Yesterday and Today album was released with what is known as the Butcher Cover. The cover features the four band members, dressed in white coats and covered in raw cuts of meat and parts of dismembered dolls. For some reason it ended up being the hit band’s worst selling album, even though the cover was changed to feature the band posed around a large trunk shortly after release.
- When Gerber, a company that sells baby food in the United States, began selling their products in Africa, they used the same branded label they did back home. If it
wasn’t strange enough that the label featured an adorable Caucasian infant, it was later discovered that African companies feature pictures of the contents of the packaging to meet the needs of largely non-English speaking and often illiterate communities. Needless to say, Gerber’s move into the African market experienced some rather severe teething problems.
5. To finish up, let’s take a look at Brazil—home to the World Cup, 2014. No one could argue that the Brazilians take their image very seriously and when Ford took the Ford Pinto to the Brazilian market, unimaginably terrible sales figures reflected the fact that pinto is Brazilian slang for little penis, and something the average Brazilian didn’t want to spend pretty big money acquiring.
So there they are; five instances in history that communication efforts have gone wrong. Some have had much more serious consequences than others, true, but what they all share in common is the message that good research and careful planning can help to avoid these kinds of mistakes in the future.