You've heard the story. GM introduced its car the "Chevy Nova" to Latin America and sales did poorly because, according to the story, Nova means "it doesn't go" in Spanish. It is said that after GM changed the name to Caribe, sales of the automobile did well.
This story continues to be heard through the classrooms of marketing and advertising classes, and even by some marketing and translation agencies. But in Spanish, the actual translation for "it doesn't go" should be No va. They are close, but not the same. Notice the space between the two words.They are also pronounced differently.
A European version also exists. It was said that Vauxhaull (also owned by GM) introduced a Nova of its own and sales did poorly in Spain.
Both of these stories are myths. Sales of the Chevy and Vauxhaull Nova actually did well in both Spain and Latin America. While there are many cases such as these that are indeed a fact (such as KFC translating their slogan to Chinese as "eat your fingers off",) this is simply not one of them.
For ways on how to avoid marketing embarrassments, read our article: Understanding culture to avoid marketing translation embarrassments.
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