#168 Does Nike want you to get fat?
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?
June 30, 2022 @ 6:54 pm
Since this is not the first time that Nike had translation issues with a foreign language sign at all, I really wonder how this is even possible? One should think that in such a huge and globally active company things like that cannot happen at all, but they still appear. But something that left me kind of suspicious is the fact, that this has happened before. So probably Nike did this on purpose, maybe to get attention for their latest shoe according to a translation issue which could be a marketing gag since the meaning is kind of sarcastic. Otherwise, it could also be that the design team for that shoe has not done their research good enough to really dig into the Chinese writing signs to be aware of that. At the end we are all human beings and we do make mistakes, as long as it is about sarcasm and irony.
July 7, 2022 @ 10:23 am
The first thing I thought when I read the article was: How can a global player like Nike make such a translation error? And how can it happen more than once? However, the reason for these errors does not necessarily have to be a lack of competence on the part of the translators. Rather, I assume that Nike did this on purpose, as the company can be sure that such obvious mistakes will draw a lot of attention to the new product and perhaps make it even more popular. Also, the translation is quite ironic, which supports the assumption of a marketing gag. Whether Nike included the mistake on purpose or not: The company is getting plenty of attention and has certainly caused a laugh among its customers as no one was seriously offended after all.
July 7, 2022 @ 4:56 pm
I always wondered how these little mistakes can happen at the biggest companies. This is the second time Nike has made such a spelling mistake, which has serious consequences. I think that Nike didn’t really think about it and wanted to create a funny ambiguity. Unfortunately, they based the joke on Western values and did not take Asian culture into consideration. I can well imagine that many were both irritated and offended by what was written. Such a mistake must not happen in performance-oriented China. Sure, mistakes are human, that’s clear, but you expect a company as big as Nike to learn from mistakes and not repeat them.
July 7, 2022 @ 8:07 pm
Considering the fact, that Nike had some translation issues in the past, I would have thought that they’d try their best to prevent such errors in the future. Nike is a well-known sports concern and represents health and fitness. Therefore, “GETTING FAT” is the total opposite of their vision and doesn’t represent the brand at all. There are two possible reasons for that inconvenience. Firstly, there was not done enough market research before the product lunch and therefore, the team was not aware of the spelling / translation error. Or secondly, the mistake was made on purpose in order to push brand and product awareness due to higher PR. All in all, I think there should not be such errors in bigger and well-known concerns.
July 8, 2022 @ 9:16 am
It is really astonishing that such a misinterpretation and translation accident happens to Nike not once, not twice, but three times within about 20 years. Especially nowadays, where phrases can be translated to all languages with little research effort on the internet and the meaning of signs can be found out for different cultures pretty fast. So, how is it possible that such a big company makes the same mistake over and over again? On the one hand, it may be that the employees forgot to check everything in detail or didn’t do research in each area. On the other hand, it is imaginable that Nike does that on purpose. I instantly had to think about the quote: “Bad Publicity is better than no Publicity” but in terms of Nike I think they have better marketing strategies than creating a shitstorm for their own product. Because of that I belief that these accidents were all mistakes which should definitely be avoided in the future in order to prevent getting a bad reputation among their customers and fanbase.
July 8, 2022 @ 4:42 pm
I’m not Chinese, so I don’t have a particular feeling about this situation. However, what I wonder about- is how is this possible? Making a mistake in such an established and well-known company. With Mandarin being the second most spoken language worldwide, one would assume that Nike would have some Chinese-speaking employees or at least the resources to ensure that basic mistakes do not even get past the conception board.
It’s hard to imagine that a sloppy, obviously not-well-thought-through, and most of all poorly-researched product, can go into production.
On the bright side though, it is a warning for other companies to pay more attention to other cultures and their differences.
Just because Chinese signs look “hip” and “fashionable” it shouldn’t blind people to misuse the language. Just because something looks pretty doesn’t mean that product development should be stopped. Nike clearly made the mistake of, again, launching a product, that was not ready.
March 7, 2023 @ 7:10 pm
The issue of bad translations in international business is not a new one, but it is surprising that even global companies such as Nike happen to have translation issues. While it is understandable that mistakes can happen, especially when dealing with multiple languages and cultures, such errors can be particularly costly, damaging the company´s reputation and undermining their efforts to connect with customers in different countries. In the case of Nike, the errors are particularly ironic, given that the company sells athletic wear, and the translations in question convey the opposite message of what they were intended to. While it is possible that a company like Nike intentionally uses controversial or provocative slogans or messages to generate buzz or attention, in my opinion it is unlikely that they would purposely mistranslate their marketing materials in a way that would offend or confuse their target audience. Doing so would be a significant risk to the brand and reputation, and there are more effective ways to reach and connect with diverse audiences.
March 10, 2023 @ 8:38 pm
It is inconceivable to me how Nike, such a large global company, can make such a mishap or mistake! It is hardly understandable that a company, which has enormous resources and opportunities in the global market, but in the linguistic aspect encounters such blunders. For companies like Nike, it is unlikely that such mistakes will happen to them, since a large contingent flows into marketing. Basically, mistakes are human, but because of this existing capacity, such mistakes may not happen repeatedly in the global market. On the other hand, I could also imagine that Nike makes mistakes on purpose to gain more attention. It can be said that negative marketing is sometimes better than no marketing. This is because it draws attention to the brand. Whether the mishaps were intentional or unintentional by the Nike brand remains unclear, but it can be said that the company has attracted attention in the global market. In the end, however, I believe that mistakes like these should not be repeated, especially because Nike stands for Sports and Fitness, and not for the complete opposite like “Fa Fu” – “GETTING FAT”.