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Expanding overseas is a key step in ensuring the success and development of big corporations. Yet breaking into the international market is not always without incident. Cultural differences and language barriers can lead to confusion and mistranslations, sometimes with pretty hilarious results.
The American fried chicken chain KFC expanded rapidly after the first franchise opened in 1952. Notably, KFC was the first Western fast food chain to open in China, back in 1987. However, this booming success didn’t come without its hiccups. One mishap was the mistranslation of KFC’s famous slogan "It’s Finger Lickin' Good" to “Eat Your Fingers Off” when the chain first opened in Beijing.
Thankfully for the company, this amusing error did not seem to put people off eating chicken. KFC is by far the most popular fast food outlet in China and has seen continued expansion in recent years. There are now more than 9,000 locations in over 1,900 cities across the country, with menus that include burgers, pork, seafood, rice, and congee, alongside KFC’s famous chicken.
When it comes to translating slogans, a literal translation can often confuse the original meaning. A slogan that works well in one language isn’t guaranteed to resonate in another. Other well-known U.S. corporations have also fallen into the trap of mistranslation when marketing internationally, including the beer company Coors and the automobile manufacturer Ford. Coors once launched a campaign in Spain with the catchy tagline “Turn It Loose” to promote their handy twist cap feature. However, the company clearly didn’t do enough research. It turned out that when translated into Spanish, this slogan was an expression commonly used in Spain meaning “suffer from diarrhea.”
Ford made a similar blunder when launching an advertising campaign in Belgium. The phrase “Every car has a high-quality body” was morbidly translated as “Every car has a high-quality corpse.”
- The name “Kentucky Fried Chicken” was coined by sign painter Don Anderson, in an effort to evoke an image of Southern hospitality for the first franchise location, which was located in Utah.
- In Japan, there is tradition of eating KFC on Christmas Day, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign.
- KFC’s “Original Recipe” of 11 herbs and spices, written by founder Harland Sanders, is top secret and is kept locked in a safe at the company’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.