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May 17, 2003

MARKETING....You remember all those great marketing screwup stories, right? "Nova" means "doesn't go" in Spanish, the original translation of "Coca Cola" in Chinese meant "bite the wax tadpole," and so forth. (UPDATE: actually, Basharov points out in comments that these are just urban legends. But you get the idea.)

Well, it looks like the Bush administration, masters of marketing that they are, have a problem of their own. Tim Dunlop has the details.

UPDATE: In comments, a reader points us to this New York Post story:

When the U.S. Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA) made its first TV broadcast to the Iraqi people Wednesday night, the new channel used as its logo the eight-pointed star seen on many buildings here. If ORHA's head of communication, Margaret Tutwieler, or her staff had consulted with any Iraqis before adopting this logo, they'd have known that the eight-pointed star is the symbol of....the Ba'ath Party.

Um, didn't they even suspect that a symbol found "on many buildings here" might be somehow connected to Saddam Hussein?

Posted by Kevin Drum at May 17, 2003 10:53 AM | TrackBack


Comments

The incompetency of this administration doesn't stop there. See below from the NY Post!

"When the U.S. Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA) made its first TV broadcast to the Iraqi people Wednesday night, the new channel used as its logo the eight-pointed star seen on many buildings here. If ORHA's head of communication, Margaret Tutwieler, or her staff had consulted with any Iraqis before adopting this logo, they'd have known that the eight-pointed star is the symbol of . . . the Ba'ath Party."

http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/57641.htm

Posted by: fastback at May 17, 2003 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Oh dear, that is unfortunate. "Ich bin ein Berliner" of course means "I am a doughnut" - I have to think JFK's translator knew that.

Posted by: John Isbell at May 17, 2003 01:29 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to bring this up, Kevin, but the claim that the "Chevy Nova" failed in Latin American countries because clueless GM marketers didn't know that "no va" means "won't go" in Spanish and the claim that Coca Cola was stupid enough to market the foul stuff in China under a name that meant "bite the wax tadpole" are both urban myths. Details here and here.

Posted by: Basharov at May 17, 2003 02:43 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the eight-pointed star a pretty universal Islamic symbol too? I think it's a common motif in mosques etc.

Then again, my vague recollection of documentaries may be misleading me here.

Posted by: Chris Lawrence at May 17, 2003 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

Well, OK, but if all the good stories turn out to be urban legends, what's the internet good for?

Posted by: Kevin Drum at May 17, 2003 02:47 PM | PERMALINK

Not that the car company Kia is too worried about this, but my folks said when we rented a car from them in Israel that we might be one of the few who did. "Kia" means "vomit" in Hebrew.

Posted by: Haggai at May 17, 2003 02:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not quite buying this, Kevin.

It might be the case, but the 1958-1963 Post-Monarchy, Pre-Baathist regime used a flag with an eight-pointed star (www.fotw.org) but the Baathist regime flew a flag with five pointed stars familiar to us today (the Arabic for Allah Ahkbar was added in 1991). I mean... maybe this is so, but I'm poking around the Baath Party website as best as I can with my nonexistant Arabic and I don't see an 8-pointed star yet.

Posted by: Andrew at May 17, 2003 04:10 PM | PERMALINK

"Isn't the eight-pointed star a pretty universal Islamic symbol too? I think it's a common motif in mosques etc."

The star appears on mosques because mosques are usually decorated with Quranic verses and abstract designs to prevent idolotry. The crescent moon is the celestial-inspired symbol of Islam (which is why the Muslim analog of the Red Cross is the Red Crescent).

Posted by: Phalamir at May 17, 2003 04:48 PM | PERMALINK

The Baath party has a website?

Posted by: Kevin Drum at May 17, 2003 06:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's also possible that the Ba'ath in Syria and the Ba'ath in Iraq at some point adopted different emblems. :)

Posted by: aphrael at May 17, 2003 07:19 PM | PERMALINK

Everything has a website, Kevin.

Posted by: Andrew at May 17, 2003 11:23 PM | PERMALINK


Oops, though I had included this:

http://www.baath-party.org

Posted by: Andrew at May 18, 2003 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

> "Ich bin ein Berliner" of course
> means "I am a doughnut"

Not precisely an urban legend, but misleading. A Berliner is the name for both a sugary confection and a resident of Berlin. . .like, say, a "Hamburger" sandwich or a "New Yorker" magazine.

Post 9/11, when it was said "We are all New Yorkers", nobody was foolish enough to think we meant the magazine, right? We could tell from context what was meant.

Well, same thing. Residents of Berlin refer to themselves as Berliners, and I assure you, they do so with a bare minimum of powdered-sugar based confusion.

---JRC

Posted by: JRC at May 18, 2003 02:37 PM | PERMALINK

JRC,

you and Mr Isbell are both a bit wrong and a bit right.

A human Berliner would be likelier to say, 'Ich bin Berliner', not '...ein Berliner'. That's what the doughnut would say, if doughnuts could talk.

But it's not really a doughnut. It's a sort of jelly doughnut. Real doughnuts, i.e., the kind with the hole, are not native to Germany. You do see them sometimes these days. They are a conscious imitation of the American original, though, and the German word for them is 'Doughnut'.

And they're not known as 'Berliner' everywhere. Depending on where you are, you'll find them under names as diverse as Berliner, Kreppel, Fasnetskiachle, Krapfen or Pfannkuchen. The latter, I believe, is what the Berliners themselves use. That said, 'Berliner' would probably be understood pretty much everywhere these days.

Poor old Kennedy wouldn't have been much better off, BTW, had he said 'Ich bin ein Amerikaner'. He'd have avoided being a jelly doughnut, but he'd be a round glazed cake instead.

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