Kraft’s Translation Fail

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Over the summer, packaged food brand Kraft announced plans to split itself up into two different companies: an American company and a global snack food division.

This week, they issued a press release announcing the new name they’d chosen for the global snack food division: Mondelez International, Inc.

Monde-WHAT? The press release explains:

“Mondelez” (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ’) is a newly coined word that evokes the idea of “delicious world.” “Monde” derives from the Latin word for “world,” and “delez” is a fanciful expression of “delicious.” In addition, “International” captures the global nature of the business.”

Higher-ups at Kraft were quite pleased with the name, which was inspired by employee suggestions. The press release is chock full of gushing praise from executive-level management, as per below:

“It’s quite a job for a single word to capture everything about what we want the new global snacks company to stand for,” said Mary Beth West, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. “I’m thrilled with the name Mondelez International. It’s interesting, unique and captures a big idea – just the way the snacks we make can take small moments in our lives and turn them into something bigger, brighter and more joyful.”

Unfortunately for Kraft, if you’re Russian, the new business name is more likely to suggest “oral sex” than it is to suggest a “delicious world.”

Crain’s Chicago Business, after being tipped off to the possible double-entendre by a reader, talked to Irwin Weil, professor of Russian language, literature and music at Northwestern University. Professor Weil confirmed:

“There is a rather vulgar word, ‘manda.’ (Mondelez) includes the sound of that word,” he said, adding that Kraft “had no idea when pronounced it means a Russian vulgar word.” The second half of the name roughly translates into the sex act, say Russian speakers.

“Manda” is a quite vulgar way to refer to a woman’s genitalia. This translation fail probably embarrassed the corporate suits who signed off on the name, but it’s thrilled bloggers and business reporters alike. Two of the most clever headlines:

Kraft No Cunning Linguists In Russia When It Comes To New Snack Brand Name (
Kraft’s Name Brings New Meaning to Snacking in Russia (Ad Age)

The truth is, it’s difficult to come up with one brand name that translates well everywhere. There’s always the chance that what works in one language could have a less-than-flattering translation in another. Kraft told Ad Age that they “did extensive due diligence in testing the name” and found that possible misinterpretations were “low risk.”

In Kraft’s defense, while Business Insider noted that Russian speakers in its office didn’t immediately think of the profanity when they saw the word, “once someone points it out and you think about it, it could be interpreted that way.”

Unfortunately for Kraft, “low risk” is not “no risk.” As large of a brand as Kraft is, they should have known someone would pick up on one of those “low risk” misinterpretations and that it would end up all over the Internet in just a few short days.

And once the similarity has been pointed out, it could be difficult to dissociate the brand from it. If shareholders approve the new name at their meeting in May, millions of Russians may never be able to look at Cadbury chocolates, Cheez Wiz, etc. the same way again.