Translations for Marketing: When Translation Goes Wrong

Posted on 08/15/12 in INDUSTRY NEWS, LANGUAGE, TRANSLATION, No Comments

Translation of Marketing Content & International Brand Identity: Why it's Important to Get it Right 

If your company or a brand is trying to expand and promote themselves internationally, putting some thought and research into how your company or brand name will be perceived to an international audience is highly important. Each country and language around the World is unique in terms of its cultural nuances and references and language in one country can be perceived very differently in another country.

Translating marketing materials and brand names involves a lot more than just a literal word for word translation. The following few examples highlight how things can go horribly wrong when a company or brand name is translated badly or introduced into a target country with little or no research beforehand.

The smallest mistake could have huge implications for your company or brand….

1. Pepsi

When Pepsi started marketing its products in China, their slogan "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" was translated literally. So in China, this literal translation had the effect of meaning "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”. In Germany its translation was taken as “Rise from the Grave with Pepsi”. That's quite a soft drink…

2. Clairol

A few years ago when hair care company Clairol introduced a curling iron called the "Mist Stick” they didn’t put much thought into how this would be perceived. When marketing the product in Germany, they failed to realise that mist is slang for manure in German.  We can only presume what the sales of this product in Germany would have been like.

3. Chevrolet

When Chevrolet introduced its car the Chevy Nova into the Spanish market the sales didn’t do so well. In Spanish “No va” literally means “it doesn’t go” – not what you want to hear when buying a car. When they realised why this make of car wasn’t selling so well in Spanish markets they eventually renamed it the Caribe.

4. Parker Pens

When Parker Pens started to market their ballpoint pen in Mexico they wanted their slogan to Mexican customers to say that it “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. However, when the company translated “embarrass” with “embarazar” this had a funny effect on their message… The Spanish word embarazar, while sounding slightly like the English "to embarrass" actually means "to impregnate", so the slogan then read “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. This must have left the Mexican audiences a tad confused! 

5. Coca-Cola

When Coca-Cola was introduced into China the translation used to market the brand actually meant “bite the wax tadpole”, or “female horse stuffed with wax” – a revelation discovered after they printed thousands of signs. After conducting some research Coca-Cola settled on a phrase which instead translated as “happiness in the mouth”.

The list goes on with examples of marketing translation mistakes that highlight the need and importance of getting translations checked by native and professional translators. Just because a brand name is successful in one country doesn’t mean that it will automatically transfer to another country and language.

If you want to stand out from the crowd when taking your product abroad, you should invest in the services of a professional native language marketing translator.

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