Kate Robinson of Hogarth: how to scupper an international campaign with one simple mistake

With a campaign of global reach, a brand can still get things wrong in terms of product names, creative, copy and design. With an increase in the roll-out of international campaigns, the risk of causing unintended offence somewhere in the world has never been greater, and the rise of social platforms and content sharing now means that material intended for one country or region has more chance of being seen elsewhere – and being taken out of context.

Surprisingly, despite this risk international campaigns are still being launched without simple checks which would make sure the content accommodates wide diversity, whether regulatory, cultural or linguistic.

And nor are the risks limited to international campaigns; a simple oversight can impact closer to home, as we’ll see.

Audi’s E-tron
In 2010, German car manufacturer Audi launched the electric hybrid E-tron model in France. Unfortunately for the car brand it did so without first checking whether the name meant or sounded similar to anything in French.

As it happens – and unfortunately for Audi – it did mean something else. To a local ear ‘E-tron’ is very close to the French word ‘étron’ – literal meaning excrement or turd, and used colloquially to indicate ‘a piece of crap’. Bad enough at the time, but particularly unfortunate in view of developments this year.

Solution: An advance name-check which would have flagged the similarity, giving Audi a chance to reconsider.

Problems can arise even within a single language native to a wide region. Adapted into Standard Modern Arabic for use throughout the Middle East, most of the countries concerned received McDonalds’ tagline ‘I’m lovin’ it’ as intended.

Arabic speakers in Egypt, however, read it as ‘I’m a bitch’, in the term’s original slang sense of a malicious woman (a small mercy, perhaps, given the more contemporary uses of the English ‘bitch’).

Unsurprisingly, the response was a mix of hilarity, bewilderment and outrage, ensuring it immediately went viral.

Solution: An advance check on how the Arabic adaptation would play across individual markets within the region, ensuring it aligned with usage in all markets and took local nuances into account. To deliver the intended meaning in Egypt required a change to just one letter.

York University’s ‘enginering’ issue

A poster for York University’s ‘Open Your Mind’ campaign went live on a number of GO trains with an embarrassing typo – incorrect spelling of the word ‘engineering’, leaving out an ‘e’.

An embarrassing error for an educational establishment…

Solution: A last-minute spell-check or proofreading of the final artwork would have picked up this simple mistake.

0739efb-200x200Kate Robinson is director of transcreation and insight at Hogarth Worldwide.


  1. It’s ‘scuttle’ not scupper. a scupper is a hole on a bulkhead of a ship that allows water or refuse to run off the deck.

  2. You have to love how Hogarth, the Poisoned Dwarfs dumpster for production services, illustrates their expertise in “Transcreation,” a much posher term than “translation,” through a graphic demonstrating that “Hello” becomes “Hola” in Spanish. No wonder His Gnomeship is a multi-millionaire.

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