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Chevy Nova and other global marketing myths

Chevy Nova and other international marketing mythsEverybody loves to have a good laugh at a mistranslation.

For years, marketing "experts" have claimed that the reason the Chevy Nova failed in Spanish-speaking countries is that "no va" is Spanish for "doesn't go." But just because lots of people like telling this story doesn't make it true.

Sometimes these myths are true (as with the Electrolux example) but especially the most commonly told ones are usually false.

Just because the Nova anecdote isn't true doesn't mean that this isn't a big issue. Like GM did with the Buick LaCrosse in Canada, companies sometimes do change product names in a specific market in an effort to avoid a bad connotation. More often, companies don't change the product name, even though they should really consider it.

In addition to the excellent book Another One Bites The Grass that we mentioned recently, here are a handful of other resources that will prevent your company from becoming the next Chevy Nova story:

For expert medical translations of regulatory, clinical, and marketing content in 40 languages - including Spanish - request a detailed proposal from ForeignExchange Translations.


  1. David R. Morse said...
    I point out the story of the Chevy Nova and other Hispanic marketing myths in my new book, "Multicultural Intelligence." It's in my chapter "Don't Trust the Experts."

    Sorry for the shameless self promotion. And thanks for the post.
    David R. Morse said...
    You're absolutely correct. I write about the urban legend of the Chevy Nova and other Hispanic urban legends in my book "Multicultural Intelligence."

    Sorry for the shameless self-promotion.
    JLibbey said...
    Isn't it amazing how that Chevy Nova story just won't go away? I continually see it mentioned in blogs and on Twitter.
    Adam said...
    There are also claims on Snopes discussion boards that the common version of the Electrolux story is also a myth. According to the debunkers, Electrolux never actually attempted to use the offending slogan in the US. See the reference for that and a handful of other debunked translation myths here: Myths Debunked: Bad Translation Apocrypha
    PM said...
    I have always doubted the Nova-story, simply because
    - firstly: "Nova" is 1 word, and "No va" is two.
    - secondly: I don't know Spanish, but I can imagine that in Spain the word "nova" has the same meaning as it has in English and Dutch: an exploding star (well, actually, a partly exploding star, a fully exploding star is a super nova)
    Richard said...
    I am still not sure about this issue. I have been looking around the web. And there is also a huge amount of websites that claim that the mythbusting is a myth it self. And translating agencies claim it as well. For example on the page Engels vertalen (in dutch)
    Michael said...
    You can tell I'm way behind in my blog reading....

    When Reuters reported the Buick re-naming for the Canadian market back in October 2003, I wrote a blog post about these kind of "translation legends." In it, I quoted snopes.com on the Chevy Nova legend:

    "Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word ‘nova’ as equivalent to the phrase ‘no va’ and think ‘Hey, this car doesn’t go!’ is akin to assuming that English speakers would spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn’t include a table.”

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