Bad Localization Examples: Real or Fake?

black and grey illustration of a male teenager drinking a can of cola branded for the Asian market. The logo is reminiscent of Pepsi, in white, blue and red.

There are loads of localization bloopers circulating around the web. Are they fact or fiction? And either way, how can you avoid them? By understanding the importance of proper localization and following best practices, your business can successfully navigate the complexities of adapting its products and content to new cultures and languages.

Bad Localization Examples and Translation Blunders You Can Avoid

Localization is a rather complex process of adapting a product, service, or content like new website copy to a specific locale or market. It goes beyond word-for-word translation and involves the consideration of cultural differences, customs, and preferences.

Proper localization is crucial for businesses that want to expand into new markets, as it directly impacts user experience, brand perception, and helps avoid cultural blunders. A poorly localized product or marketing campaign can lead to confusion, ridicule, and even offense or a subpoena, ultimately damaging a company’s reputation and hindering its success in foreign markets.

Unless maybe you have triple lucky balls.

From Legendary Localization Fail to Laughingstock

Localization and translation missteps can significantly impact your brand’s image and customer perception across different markets. Here are four widely circulated examples that highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity and linguistic accuracy in global marketing. But are they real or fake?

One of the better-known localization fails out there that really happened is HSBC’s infamous “Assume Nothing” mistranslation.

The tagline was meant to underscore the bank’s global presence and personalized services, but when translated into multiple languages, it resulted in the slogan “Do Nothing.”

This blunder was reported to have cost the company millions of dollars to rebrand and fix the mistake back in 2009, highlighting how grave the financial consequences of poor localization really can be. HSBC wound up rebranding to “The World’s Private Bank,” which communicated the intended message more effectively.

Speaking of “Do Nothing,” Self-Help Singh is the man. But I digress.

Another example often mentioned in every translation fails collection out there is Pepsi’s slogan “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation.” It’s said this was mistranslated in Chinese as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave.”

While this would indeed be a significant cultural blunder, there is no reliable source confirming that this translation error actually occurred. It seems to be a fictional bad localization example that gained traction online. On the other hand, Snopes notes that Pepsi has never actually denied it either.

The story of Chevrolet introducing the Nova in Spanish-speaking markets, unaware that “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish, is another popular anecdote in the niche of localization fails. However, this story is a myth. In reality, the Nova sold rather well in Spanish-speaking countries, and the “no va” issue was not a significant problem for the car’s sales. This example highlights how fictional bad localization examples can spread and be accepted as fact without proper verification.

Electrolux, a Swedish home appliance manufacturer, entered the US market in the 1960s with the slogan, “Nothing Sucks Like An Electrolux.” This is widely cited as a blunder all around the web, yet Electrolux had no intention of implying that their vacuums didn’t work well.

It’s important to have a solid understanding of idioms, slangs and cultural nuances when localizing for your target markets, yet this purported “suck up” was in fact intentional, and it was certainly successful by any marketing standards: not only did it perfectly underscore the brand’s superior performance, but it was also an attention grabber on the American market.

Real-Life Examples of Video Game Localization Blunders

While some bad localization examples may be purely fictional, the video game industry has seen its fair share of genuine localization mistakes. One of the most iconic examples is the “Jill Sandwich” translation from Resident Evil.

In the original Japanese version of the game, a character was meant to express concern for Jill, the protagonist, by saying, “Jill, are you okay?” Likely an attempt to inject a bit of humor on the part of the translator rather than a purely poor English translation choice, the line in English became “You were almost a Jill Sandwich,” which the gaming community deemed a hoot.

Resident Evil® Capcom

Another real video game localization fail is Zero Wing’s “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” This broken English phrase, resulting from a sloppy translation, has become a classic example of mistranslation in gaming and a popular internet meme amongst gamers.

The Legend of Zelda series is also often cited as having had suffered a genuine localization error in the game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. In the English version, a character named “Error” appears, introducing himself with the line “I am Error.”

Many believed this odd name and dialogue resulted from a mistranslation of the Japanese word “Erā,” meaning “elder,” and thought the localization team mistook it for the English word “error,” leading to the unintentionally humorous line that has since become a well-known example of localization gone wrong. Yet in all likelihood it was an inside joke of the developers: “Error” is speaking with his counterpart “Bagu, which translates to “bug” i.e. software bug. Get it?

(I’m not affiliated, but if you’re a video game localization buff, there are lots of other fun blunders in This be book bad translation, video games!)

Why Localization Fails Happen

Worst cases of localization can occur for various reasons, often stemming from a lack of understanding of the localization process and its complexities. One common mistake is simply translating content word-for-word with little regard of context, not infrequently resulting in awkward or nonsensical phrases.

Another factor contributing to localization fails is not working with professional localization experts who have a deep understanding of the target language and culture. Relying entirely on machine translation or non-native speakers can lead to errors and misinterpretations that can be costly and damaging to your brand’s reputation.

Insufficient review processes and quality assurance also leave too much room for mistakes to slip through the cracks. Localization generally requires multiple rounds of review and testing to ensure that the content is accurate, culturally appropriate, and resonates with the target audience.

knight with a gibberish speech bubble representing game localization mishaps
That’s what he said.

Finally, rushed timelines and tight budgets can pressure teams to cut corners, leading to sloppy mistakes and subpar localization. Effective localization requires adequate time and resources to research, translate, review, and refine the content for each target market.

The Importance of Localization for Businesses

If you want to break into a new locale abroad, then you want to get localization right. By effectively adapting your content and perhaps even your product names to local cultural norms and languages, your company can reap numerous benefits:

  1. Better maintenance of brand integrity and perception: Proper localization ensures that your company’s brand message and values are consistently communicated across different markets. This builds trust and credibility with local audiences.
  2. The ability to provide a really authentic, culturally-relevant experience: By tailoring your content and messaging to the specific needs and preferences of each market, you’ll create a more engaging and meaningful experience for your customers.
  3. Bypass embarrassing and costly mistranslation blunders: Investing in professional localization services helps you avoid the negative publicity and financial consequences of localization mistakes. In turn, this helps protect your business’s reputation and bottom line.
  4. Heightened trust with local customers and audiences: Demonstrating a commitment to understanding and respecting local cultures and languages fosters a sense of connection and loyalty in new markets.
  5. Increased engagement, sales, and growth potential through multilingual content adaptation: Properly localized content and products are more likely to resonate with local audiences, which helps drive your engagement, sales, and overall growth.

Best Practices for Effective Localization

To ensure successful localization so that you don’t wind up in a list of bad localization examples one day, there are a range of best practices to follow. While they warrant a lengthy article of their own, a few are well worth highlighting here in conjunction with the topic of translation mishaps.

  1. Conduct thorough market research on cultural differences. Before entering a new market, companies should invest in a culturalization consultant to understand the cultural nuances, preferences, and expectations of the target audience. It’s a great ROI because the research they do for you will inform your localization strategy and help you avoid cultural missteps.
  2. Work with professional language services who actually understand nuances. Partnering with professional, native-speaker localization experts or a translation service provider ensures that your content is accurately adapted to the local context. These experts, often multilingual translators, can often give you additional valuable insights into cultural nuances and help maintain the intended meaning and impact of your content.
  3. Use transcreation for creative marketing content. For marketing materials and other creative content, transcreation – a process that involves recreating the content to evoke the same emotional response in the target language – is often more effective than simple translation. Like localization, transcreation takes cultural contexts into account and ensures that the content resonates with your local audience.
  4. Develop robust review and quality assurance processes with a focus on preventing common localization mistakes. Establishing a comprehensive review and QA process is critical for catching errors, ensuring consistency, and maintaining the quality of the localized content. This process should involve multiple rounds of review by native speakers and subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and cultural appropriateness.
  5. Continuously update and maintain localized content to prevent translation errors. Localization is not a one-time effort – it’s an ongoing process. As products, services, and content evolve, it’s essential to regularly update and maintain the localized versions to ensure they remain relevant and accurate. This approach also allows your business to incorporate feedback from local users and adapt to changing market conditions.

Bad localization examples serve as cautionary tales for businesses looking to expand into new markets, highlighting the potential consequences of poor translation, cultural insensitivity, and localization mistakes.

black and white illustration of a Chinese male teenager drinking a can of cola with a mistranslated logo in white, blue and red to exemplify bad localization examples
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Turning Bad Translation Around

From embarrassing mistranslations that become internet memes to costly rebranding efforts, localization fails can have a significant impact on your brand’s reputation and bottom line.

The good news is that you can avoid these faux pas with the right consideration, resources and practices. By prioritizing localization and committing to delivering authentic, culturally-relevant experiences, you’ll unlock new opportunities for growth whether your business has just one employee, or thousands.

Jenna Brinning Avatar


A localization consultant, writer, editor, and content publisher with over two decades of experience in tech and language, Jenna holds an M.A. in journalism and communication science from Freie Universität Berlin, and is a certified PSPO and PSM who loves helping startups and small businesses reach international users.


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