The Russian energy giant Gazprom in a 2.5 billion dollar joint venture with Nigeria’s NNCP (Nigerian National Petroleum Company) just formed a firm with the ill advised name “Nigaz.” The name is apparently a conjunction of the first three letters for each of the parties involved in the transaction (“Nig” and “Gaz”) but unfortunately closely resembles an invective that has come under intense negative public scrutiny in the US for some time now.
There’s little doubt that the joint venture with the NNCP was a savvy business move for the Russian company. According to Isaac Ugbabe at examiner.com, Gazprom and the NNCP are cooperating to build refineries, power plants, and possibly a trans-Saharan pipeline between Nigeria and Europe that would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, hence increasing Russia’s growing political power and clout in Europe.
What the Russian energy giant doesn’t have, apparently, are informed PR consultants. Or maybe they're not at all concerned about the US market. (Or maybe we just haven't seen the ads yet?)
Although it's an unfortunate linguistic coincidence, they're not the first, nor will they be the last, manufacturer to walk into a colloquial language trap -- a list by Graham Smith (excerpting from Matt Haig’s book “Brand Failures”) at Logo/Identity/Design touches on some of the more egregious examples of international “Branding Failure.
*A translation error of a Parker Pen ad ended up promising Mexican consumers that it would not "leak in your pocket and make you pregnant"
*Chevrolet couldn’t sell its Nova in South America because “no va” is translated there as “doesn’t go”
*In Brazil, "Pinto" (Ford) is slang for "small penis"
*Pepsi's "come alive with the Pepsi generation" in Taiwan ended up as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
*Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Chinese add campaign slogan “finger lickin’ good” played as “eat your fingers off”.
*Perdue Chicken’s slogan “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” is translated as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate" in Spain.
*Coors' slogan “turn it loose” was perhaps the most unfortunate of all -- colloquially, it read in Spain as “suffer from diarrhea”.
There are a couple of other instances that are as hilarious as they are a stark reminder that in today's global age, money spent on quality, globally-minded PR is never a waste.