Bad translations have long been the humor well that keeps on giving in International Business. Just think of German car maker Audi’s relatively recent rollout of the E-tron (French for excrement) brand for their electric cars. Nike is certainly no stranger to translation issues as it has blundered among Arabic speakers and devout muslims as early as 1997 and as recent as 2019 when their Air shoe seemed to display the name for God in Arabic (“Allah”). In 2016, Nike stepped into it again, this time in China. Trying to capitalize on Chinese consumers’ desire to shop until they drop around Chinese New Year, they marketed a Nike Air Force 1 athletic shoe with something they thought showed the Chinese characters conveying New Year’s blessings, using the Chinese words “Fa” and “Fu”. And indeed, when shown separately, these words mean “wealthy or prosperous” and “luck or good fortune” and are used to congratulate others on the happy occasion of the New Year. However, when written together as “Fa Fu”, then their meaning is entirely different – GETTING FAT, which is kind of ironic for a company selling athletic wear. One wonders, how can a multinational company of the size, importance, and professionalism such as Nike not prevent these kinds of mistakes?
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