F*** the Diet: Unilever’s Hilarious Marketing Mistake

du darfstOur global market means that translation services are more and more sought after for businesses that are working to market their products and services across multinational borders. But what about companies that do it themselves? Sometimes it works out, but in the case of Unilever’s Du Darfst food product line, sometimes it really, really doesn’t.

Du Darfst: No Need to Diet

Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company based between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, launched a new ad last year for its low-calorie food product line called “Du Darfst” – translated from German into “you may” in English. The phrasing of this product line was coined as a sort of “go ahead” for its consumers, letting them feel guiltless about their food choices.

When Slang Goes Haywire

Of course, sometimes a product that is a good idea in theory can flop – and hard. Translation can sometimes take a turn for the worse. The German Du Darfst ad campaign, of course, meant to say something along the lines of, “Forget about the diet,” or “Let the diet be.” But what they came up with was “F*** the Diet.” The tagline was spread all over Germany with TV ads and even a website with downloadable badges so that consumers could wear the slogan.

So what was their mistake? For a company that spends $7.8 billion per year on its advertising, it should probably have been obvious that vulgar language in its tagline was not a good way to go. However, according to Ad Age, the company believed that dropping the f-bomb was no big deal in Germany. Unilever even went on to say that the term is heard all the time on the radio and in magazines in Germany, and has come to mean simply, “let it be.”

What Unilever’s Mistake Means for Marketing

German consumers, however, were in no way convinced by Unilever’s statement that the f-word isn’t a big deal. The biggest mistake that Unilever made was simple: using a word whose meaning had, in context, been diluted was still problematic for a global-minded audience, especially for Germans who are bilingual in German and English. Consumers were shocked and appalled by the campaign because they knew that the f-word was a lot more vulgar for the rest of the world.

The takeaway is, of course, that it’s important to consider the widespread implications of what your ad campaign might be doing. If you think it could be offensive, even in a small way, then you should probably reconsider your strategy.

What do you think of Unilever’s marketing faux pas? Has your business ever accidentally offended your audience?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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