Advertising is the key to success – this undeniable fact known not only to marketers takes on quite a new dimension when a product or service is put on a foreign market.
Translation of marketing and advertising materials requires from the authors having a light style of writing, good knowledge of the target market, customs of local customers and that of the product or service to be sold. Sometimes the translator also has to be a copywriter and change the advertising slogan (or the whole brand’s communication strategy) to make it catchy for an audience from a different cultural background.
The quality of the translation may determine the success of the brand on a foreign market. While it may seem that the world’s largest brands are aware of the risks that hiring translators whose competence has not been tested entails, this is not always the case.
You can read below about a few examples of advertising campaigns in which something went wrong…
Braniff International Airlines – American airlines that no longer exist – found out that literal translation is not a good solution. Their slogan Fly in leather was translated into Spanish as Vuela en cuero, which does not mean flying on seats made of leather but …. flying naked.
Parker – a well known manufacturer of stationery products – was another victim of mistranslation. This time the translation was into Spanish as well, and its author was misled by “false friends”, i.e. expressions which sound very similar or even identical in two or more languages, but their meanings are different. In this case, the translators confused embarrass with the Spanish expression embarazar (make pregnant). The slogan which was to guarantee that the user would not be embarrassed by a pen staining their pocket with leaking ink ensured them, once translated into Spanish, that they would not get pregnant by the unfortunate pen.
Localization is an integral part of translation. This process involves adapting the text to the reader raised in a different culture. The translator may alter the text to a lesser or greater extent not only in terms of the language, but also the graphic layout of the flyer, banner or product packaging. Failing to ensure the proper localization of the translation may make the company get into trouble not because of what has been included in its promotional material, but in what form.
According to a Japanese legend, babies are not brought by storks, but come from a huge peach. That is why the image of a stork on the packaging of diapers was completely incomprehensible to Japanese parents. Why did it get there? Translators working for Procter & Gamble forgot about a very important aspect, i.e. localization of promotional material.
Defective vacuum cleaners
Electrolux – a popular Swedish manufacturer of home appliances and consumer electronics – made a serious mistake while introducing its products on the American market. To emphasize the functionality of vacuum cleaners manufactured by this company, the marketing material focused on their high suction power. Unfortunately, the slogan Nothing sucks like Electrolux emphasized rather their failure frequency.
As shown by these examples, a gifted translator, knowledgeable about language nuances typical of a given region, is invaluable, as incompetence in translation is harmful not only to the company’s financial situation, but also to its image.