Fun Friday Post – Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead!

For this week’s Fun Friday Post we’re going back in time, more specifically to the early 1960’s, to re-live a famous example of how marketing can go wrong, and it’s hilarious! This story has never been confirmed or denied but lives on as a marketing legend.

In the early 1960’s Pepsi came up with a new slogan – “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation.” – in an effort to compete with Coca-Cola. For those of you old enough to remember, that does not include myself, Pepsi had become a boring brand in the 1950’s and was often referred as a the soda drink of choice for the stay at home mom – not hip at all!

This new Pepsi slogan, seemingly overnight, transformed a boring beverage into something nobody would be embarrassed to be caught drinking. These ads targeted the young and those who thought themselves youthful and quickly generated buzz turning Pepsi into a hip, cool brand. The “Pepsi Generation”, a simple slogan and advertising gimmick, turned the company upside down with a slew of televisions commercials and radio jingles filled with energy, quick pitches, celebrities, and parody.

Here’s the original ditty:

There’s a whole new way of livin’
Pepsi helps supply the drive.
It’s got a lot to give
To those who like to live
‘Cause Pepsi helps ’em come alive.
It’s the Pepsi Generation
Comin’ at ya,
Goin’ strong!

So how exactly does Pepsi bring back your dead ancestors?

Here’s where marketing legend becomes myth. While Pepsi was goin’ strong in the western world, reports were coming back from China revealing a very different outlook. Sales were dropping at an unprecedented rate. Why? Well according to the lore the slogan “Come Alive!” was mistranslated in both Mandarin and Cantonese (but no one really knows for sure) to read “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead!” as the tale persisted multiple versions of mistranslation were rumoured in Thais as well as German. Here are a few more examples:

  • Come alive out of the grave with Pepsi.
  • Bring dead ancestors back from heaven.

The story goes, if there is any truth to it, that it came down to the order in which the slogan was asked to be translated. The actual slogan was “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation” but the slogan given to translators was “Come alive with Pepsi”. A small nuance, but in translation small nuances can lead to big differences.

Pepsi has never denied nor confirmed these rumours. Today it lives on as a lesson to marketers on how very wrong a campaign can go when dealing with translations and cultural differences on a global scale. Unfortunately many brands keep making this mistake.

A few equally hilarious examples:

  • In the 1980’s KFC opened its doors in China with its first restaurant in Beijing. They mistranslated their famous slogan “Finger-licking good” to “Eat you fingers off”.
  • When Coors took it’s “Turn it Loose” campaign to Spain they neglected to consider slang. Instead the campaign read as “Suffer from diarrhea.” The campaign actually did well for Coors, but for all the wrong reasons.
  • The American Dairy Association brought their successful “Got Milk?” campaign to Mexico. But unfortunately for them it translated to “Are You Lactating?” – not exactly the message they wanted.

We decided to have a little more fun with the Pepsi myth and designed an ad camping around the mistranslation – enjoy!


3 thoughts on “Fun Friday Post – Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead!

  1. Pingback: How to navigate global communications |

  2. Pingback: Fun Friday Post – Advertising Fails | Keep Marketing Fun

  3. Pingback: Literally Lost in Translation - Phrases That Have Taken a Left Turn - Language Reach - Translation Agency in London

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