In a marketing strategy designed to capture the growing Hispanic market, Volkswagen launched its new GTI 2006 model with the two words: TURBO-COJONES.
In the U.S., 'cojones" is a catch-all word for daring, gutsy. The image that Volkswagen wanted to portray.
In the Hispanic community, cojones means "testicles" and the use of the word always has a vulgar connotation.
Volkswagen started taking billboards down that contained the ad after an unprecedented barrage of complaints from Hispanic residents of the Miami area. Although no complaints have been received from the large Hispanic population in New York, Volkswagen decided to replace the billboards there as well.
Throughout the years, we have seen a lot of translation gaffes in advertising:
Frand Perdue's slogan "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken", when translated into Spanish read, "It takes a virile man to make a chicken affectionate."
Cigarettes advertised with low tar translated into low "asphalt".
Computer software translated into computer "underwear".
Hydraulic rams translated into "wet sheep".
Another example was the old Nova in the 1980s. "No va" in Spanish translates to "it does not run" and you can see how Hispanic speaking buyers were not exactly thrilled to buy a new car with that name.
Cultural competency is a crucial skill in business where companies stand to lose millions of dollars when they do not properly consider the cultural aspects of their advertisements.
So learn a new language, but also take time to learn the culture, in order to communicate more effectively, which in business, translates to "profitably".