Marketing blunders happen when international companies fail to consider the translations of new slogans in other languages. This is a big challenge for Apple in China, one of its top markets, as its iPhone slogans—from “This changes everything. Again” to “Bigger than bigger” to “This is 7″—sound even more banal in Chinese than they do in English.
When the American tech giant launched the newest iPhone 7 and 7 Plus this week, Apple fans in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan realized that the Chinese translations of the new “This is 7” slogan vary, a lot.
Quartz put them back into English, with their literal meanings:
“This is 7” (這是7) sounds a bit like a nonsense in Chinese. The version in China changes the word order to make it less colloquial, while the Taiwan version adds “就,” which means exactly or precisely, to, er, make it sound more affirmative. The Hong Kong slogan, meanwhile, seems to be wordy, failing to capture the simplicity of the original English version.
Here’s why they’re different: Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, while mainlanders and Taiwanese speak Mandarin. Speakers of the two biggest dialects of the Chinese language can find each other impossible to understand and even use different written characters.
And in Cantonese, “seven,” or 柒, is pronounced tsat, and is also slang for “penis.” The word isn’t particularly offensive. Instead, it is often used to describe a hilarious person or thing, or mock someone gently. Let’s say a friend slipped in public, or got a goofy haircut: you can say to him in Cantonese “You are so seven,” without hurting his feelings too much.
Or, you can take the literal meaning. That’s why “This is penis” or “Penis, is here” or “Exactly is penis” were not great choices for Apple’s Hong Kong marketing push.
Already, Hong Kongers are enjoying the gaffe. “Without a 3.5mm earbud jack, this is exactly penis,” one Hong Konger, who is apparently not happy with iPhone’s new design philosophy, commented under a Facebook post about the Chinese translations of the slogan that already has 39,000 reactions.
Apple could have learned a lesson from Samsung. After the Korean company released the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone earlier this year, Hong Kongers joked that “Note 7” sounds like “a stick of penis” in Cantonese.
Echo Huang Yinyin contributed to this article.