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Honda Fit story seems true.  The full story is that the car introduced in 2001 was supposed to be called Honda Fitta. After the first series of promotional brochures, pictures, and posters were distributed with the original name, the Japanese were told that the name Fitta refers to a crude reference to a female body part in Norway and Sweden. This was when the decision was made to rename the car as Fit.  And, in Europe Honda elected to change the name to Jazz to completely disassociate from the blunder (Jazz was a generic name Honda used for selling several small vehicles) This story is probably true, since it happened in the Internet era, so it’s relatively easy to find news articles talking about the name change. Here is an article using the original name in May 2001: http://www.bilsport.se/news.php?id=32433, and another talking about the name change in June 2001: http://www.bilsport.se/news.php?id=32327 

 

 

Meanwhile, another AIB-L member emailed me about the Coke “Bite the Wax Tadpole” and Pepsi examples and said that she thought the origins of these were the “Going International” video series published first back in the 1983. That got me curious, so I did a little bit of research online about the Coke Tadpole case. One thing we couldn’t do back in 2002 was to search many old books, which is now possible thanks to the Google Books Project.

 

So, here is what I have;  The earliest mention of “bite the wax tadpole” I can find are a New Yorker article from 1958 (http://goo.gl/Vwd9Q ) and a book about the history of Coca Cola from 1960 called “The big drink” (http://goo.gl/nMasV) . Those explain accurately what happened: When Coca Cola entered the Chinese market in 1927 they did not create a Chinese character equivalent of their name, so local shopkeepers made homemade signs to reflect a reasonable equivalent of the four syllables of the name. The “bite the wax tadpole” came from one of those homemade signs along with many other variations.  Seeing all these random Chinese signs popping up, Coca Cola company actually hired a language specialist to find an appropriate set of characters that could be used on a more consistent basis.  And came up with four that means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice” which they trademarked in 1928 (see http://goo.gl/6nbwB  for an extended discussion).

 

There are obviously gaps in Google Books archives.  The next time the terms are revealed are in 1977 and 1978 where two periodicals, “State and Mind” and “The American School Bboard Journal” incorrectly describe this as a failure of Coca Cola with their initial promotions in China.  So, the story got misquoted somewhere during those 20 years and the rest is history…

 

Meanwhile, researching these, I found an article authored by David Ricks in 1984 and published in Long Range Planning (http://goo.gl/BXwoi ) where he surveyed a number of the companies who were the subject of blunders to see if the stories were true. Several of them turn out to be untrue, but a few companies did confirm the blunders. The most famous of these is probably the Parker Pens’ accidental campaign to prevent pregnancies in Latin America.   The interesting part of his article was that one of the companies claimed that the ‘blunder’ stories were being told by their competitors in an effort to reduce the company’s prestige. That could be the source of many of the urban legends!

 

Of course, the irony there is that David Ricks (an AIB Fellows) probably shares a part of the responsibility of disseminating many of these claims through his famous book on International Business Blunders (first published in 1974 and then revised multiple times – the Coca Cola story first appears  in the 1984 version of the book).

 

Tunga

 

 

From: Vasyl Taras [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2012 11:17
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Thank you, Thomas.

I remember the same example from the former USSR, circa 1990, where I grew up. There was a brand of drinking water sold by a US company – “Blue Water” – which sounds like “vomit” in Ukrainian and Russian. It sounded funny, led to many jokes and I’ve seen a number of times this used as an example of “bad” marketing.

However, what’s not mentioned is that a matter of weeks the product become widely recognized and talked about. I don’t exclude that the move was intentional as the “bad sounding” name didn’t seem to do much damage, but it definitely helped attract attention and, I am guessing, did more good than bad overall.

So what’s presented as “ignorant Americans” may have actually been a brilliant marketing campaign. I just don’t believe no one pointed out the problem before the commercials were aired, and most likely it was an informed decision to keep the brand name and not use a different one.

 

Vas

 

From: Weber, Thomas [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2012 11:04 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: RE: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Hi Vas,

 

I have no idea if any of these are true or not. I just wanted to comment on the “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” That was an ad campaign I remember. I am a native English speaker, and I thought that was one of the funniest ads I ever saw. I do not know, but I think it was an intentional play on words by Electrolux. I think they were capitalizing on what would be considered a mistake in order to create a memorable commercial, which worked for me.

 

Thomas

Thomas Weber

Strategic Management PhD Candidate
Old Dominion University

2160 Constant Hall

Norfolk, VA  23589

http://orgs.odu.edu/badsa/tweber.html

 

 

 

From: Vasyl Taras [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2012 10:05 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Just curious if anyone knows anything about the following “blunders” (before I use them in my class):

 

Honda Fit sold as Jazz in most of Asia and Europe for “Fit” being an F-word

 

Irish Mist and Mist Stick being a problem in Germany, where “mist” is an S-word

 

Umbro’s Zyklon shoe model removed after discovering that Zyklon was also the name of the gas used by Nazis in gas chambers.

 

I also mention a few mistakes made by foreign companies in the U.S. (Ikea’s Fartfull desk, locum’s Christmas logo with “o” substituted with a heart symbol, Electrolux’s slogan “Nothing Sucks Like Electrolux”, and Volkswagen’s Bora sold as “Jetta” in the U.S. (actually a good example of avoiding a problem) - but those seem to be obvious blunders as attested by the smiles of my English-speaking students.

 

Any of these are also urban myths?

 

Vas

 

 

From: Romie Littrell [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 8:52 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Tunga is correct. The Ford Pinto was never sold in Brasil, even under another model name. Marcelo de Castro Bastos informs (and confirmed elsewhere): The Ford Corcel was a totally unrelated product, the result of a joint project by the Brazilian subsidiary of Willys Overland and French automaker Renault (Willys used to make Renault cars, like the Dauphine and Gordini, under license in Brazil.) When Ford acquired Willys's Brazilian operation, they inherited the almost-finished project and decided to launch it under their own brand. They MAY have considered to use the "Pinto" brand on it, but saner heads prevailed and decided on the "Corcel" name in order to keep to the "horse" theme Ford seemed to like at the time. The "Pinto" name was never used in Brazil.

This site has a random collection of communication on these topics:
http://www.i18nguy.com/translations.html

Romie Frederick Littrell, BA, MBA, PhD, FIAIR
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
IV. 1st stanza, War is Kind and Other Lines, Stephen Crane, 1899
A little ink more or less!
It surely can't matter?
Even the sky and the opulent sea,
The plains and the hills, aloof,
Hear the uproar of all these books.
But it is only a little ink more or less.

--- On Sat, 16/6/12, Kiyak, Tunga <[log in to unmask]> wrote:


From: Kiyak, Tunga <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish
To: [log in to unmask]
Received: Saturday, 16 June, 2012, 10:32 AM

That’s most likely an urban legend as well.  The claim is that Ford Pinto was renamed and sold as Ford Corcel after the blunder was noticed.  The problem with that is that Corcel was actually introduced in Brazil in 1968 (and developed in Brazil by a company that was later acquired by Ford).  That’s 2 years BEFORE Ford Pinto was ever marketed (it was introduced in the US in 1970). 

 

Doing some quick Googling, there is some brief research about the Ford Pinto claim at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=619 and it reaches the same conclusion…

 

Tunga

 

 

From: Ghoshal, Animesh [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 18:10
To: Kiyak, Tunga; [log in to unmask]
Subject: RE: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Thank you, Romie and Tunga, for alerting us to the possibility that some of the “facts” used textbook discussions of the cultural aspects of international business are not quite factual.

 

I wonder if anyone has investigated the claim that the Ford Pinto had to be renamed in Brazil after Ford realized that in Portuguese slang pinto is a small male appendage. Is this also an urban legend?

 

Animesh Ghoshal

 

From: Kiyak, Tunga [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 4:08 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

I number of us had engaged in a similar discussion back in May 2002 on Global Interact Network (GINLIST – a now defunct discussion list).  There were several translation examples that we discussed as urban legends; the Chevy Nova example, the Coca-Cola being translated into Chinese as "bite the wax tadpole", and Pepsi’s campaign in Taiwan being translated as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" as well as others.

 

A few of us tried to track the citations in the textbooks to their original sources and quickly went nowhere. At the end, we found several books that simply cited each other or mentioning these cases as anecdotes without any credible references. The earliest mention of the Chevy Nova ‘blunder’ we could find was a WSJ article from January 13, 1977 written by a staff reporter discussing the business of technical translation.  The conclusion of the discussion was that these are all urban legends that have been victims of ‘consensual validation’. Once a first few cites came up, lazy writers who only do cursory research use those citations as validation of the statement as a fact and publish them.  Additional such publications only strengthen the false validation process.

 

What’s so surprising is that the Snopes article was already up online in 2002, so the case has been researched and classified as urban legend for at least a decade.  Yet it continues to be mentioned frequently as a brand blunder.

 

Tunga

--

Tunga Kiyak, Ph.D.

Managing Director

Academy of International Business (AIB)

 

From: Blanco, R Ivan [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 15:47
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [AIB-L] FW: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

Romie,

 

Finally someone writes about this myth!  I have been saying the same for a long time to my students in International Business and Cross-Cultural Management because all textbooks use that as an example of blunders in language, and the Nova thing became a classic which no one had questioned before. I lived in Venezuela during the introduction of the Chevy Nova and it was a very well accepted car in that market as mentioned in your e-mail. I have said to my students and to anyone else willing to listen that in Spanish speaking countries “nova” will be associated more with the word “nuevo” (which means new), because the Latin root of “Nuevo” is pretty close to “Nova.”

 

Thanks for sharing!

 

Ivan Blanco

 

 

[log in to unmask]">

 

From: Romie Littrell [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2012 3:35 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [AIB-L] Perpetuating falsehoods: The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish

 

A False Claim:   The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish.

Summarised from: www.snopes.com, Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2012 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.

I’m still seeing publications and comments with the incorrect and misleading legend of “The Chevrolet Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because its name translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish. I become increasingly concerned about the diligence and responsibility of authors of textbooks and articles. As snopes.com points out, the ‘Chevy Nova legend lives on in countless marketing textbooks, is repeated in numerous business seminars, and is a staple of newspaper and magazine columnists who need a pithy example of human folly. Perhaps someday this apocryphal tale will become what it should be: an illustration of how easily even "experts" can sometimes fall victim to the very same dangers they warn us about.’

Part of the fiction is that GM executives were baffled until someone finally pointed out to them that "nova" translates as "doesn't go" in Spanish. The embarrassed automobile giant changed the model name to the Caribe, and sales of the car took off. Actually Caribe is a Volkwagen model, not a Chevy. The truth is that the Chevrolet Nova's name didn't significantly affect its sales: it sold well in both its major Spanish-language markets, Mexico and Venezuela. (Its Venezuelan sales figures actually surpassed GM's expectations.)

From snopes.com: The original Chevrolet Nova (initially the Chevy II) hit the U.S. market in 1962. (This car should not be confused with the smaller, front wheel drive vehicle which was produced in 1985 as a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota and also assigned the Nova name.) Between 1972 and 1978 the Chevrolet Nova was also sold in Mexico and several other Spanish-speaking countries, primarily Venezuela. Shortly afterwards the great "Nova" legend arose, a legend which a little linguistic analysis shows it to be improbable:

First of all, the phrase "no va" (literally "doesn't go") and the word "nova" are distinct entities with different pronunciations in Spanish: the former is two words and is pronounced with the accent on the second word; the latter is one word with the accent on the first syllable. Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word "nova" as equivalent to the phrase "no va" and think "Hey, this car doesn't go!" is akin to assuming that English speakers would spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn't include a table.

Although "no va" can be literally translated as "no go," it would be a curious locution for a speaker of Spanish to use in reference to a car. Just as an English speaker would describe a broken-down car by saying that it "doesn't run" rather than it "doesn't go," so a Spanish speaker would refer to a malfunctioning automobile by saying "no marcha" or "no funciona" or "no camina" rather than "no va."

Pemex (the Mexican government-owned oil monopoly) sold (and still sells) gasoline in Mexico under the name "Nova." If Mexicans were going to associate anything with the Chevrolet Nova based on its name, it would probably be this gasoline. In any case, if Mexicans had no compunctions about filling the tanks of their cars with a type of gasoline whose name advertised that it "didn't go," why would they reject a similarly-named automobile?

This legend assumes that a handful of General Motors executives launched a car into a foreign market and remained in blissful ignorance about a possible adverse translation of its name. Even if nobody in Detroit knew enough rudimentary Spanish to notice the coincidence, the Nova could not have been brought to market in Mexico and/or South America without the involvement of numerous Spanish speakers engaged to translate user manuals, prepare advertising and promotional materials, communicate with the network of Chevrolet dealers in the target countries, etc. In fact, GM was aware of the translation and opted to retain the model name "Nova" in Spanish-speaking markets anyway, because they (correctly) felt the matter to be unimportant.

Additional information from snopes.com:
http://www.novaresource.org/history.htm
Debunking several urban legends: Ricks, David A.   Blunders in International Business. Cambridge, U.S.A.: Blackwell, 1993.   ISBN 1-55786-414-4   (p. 35).


Romie Frederick Littrell, BA, MBA, PhD, FIAIR
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
IV. 1st stanza, War is Kind and Other Lines, Stephen Crane, 1899
A little ink more or less!
It surely can't matter?
Even the sky and the opulent sea,
The plains and the hills, aloof,
Hear the uproar of all these books.
But it is only a little ink more or less.

____
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