Lost in translation

Posted on March 15, 2015 · Posted in Marketing Translations

In today’s global, technological and digital universe, the need for professional translation services is becoming omnipresent, a necessary part of doing business globally and more commonplace than ever before. As more cultures are merging, language obstacles broken, doing business and communicating with your neighbor is just as simplistic as reaching out to someone from the other side of the world. Breaching these language barriers is the obvious choice for businesses today and in the future.

But explaining an important brand name associated with a business in other languages and crossing these cultural differences is confusing, often hilarious, and at other times insulting. Look at a few if these phenomenal failures that damaged brand names on the other side of the globe.

A costly, global error

Back in 2009, HSBC bank found themselves spending $10 million in rebranding their five-year-old, “Assume Nothing” tagline being read as “Do Nothing” in a number of languages around the world. The friendlier revision was rewritten as, “The World’s Private Bank.”

More cultural than translational

When Pampers released their brand of diapers to the Chinese market, the packaging showcased a picture of a stork bringing the infant to parents. The Chinese culture is rich in symbolism, especially those associated with animals. While a stork delivering a child to a couple in the US is commonplace, this imagery confused the Asian marketplace since the stork symbolises longevity, not infancy.

Another Asian blunder

Coca Cola didn’t do all their research when they brought their popular beverage to the Asian market and the Chinese character read as “Kekoukela”, meaning “Bite the Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Stuffed with Wax”, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched over 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent and changed it to “kokoukole”, which translated into “Happiness in the Mouth.”

Does it really work?

Poor translations can go both ways as exemplified by the Scandinavian manufacturers of the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. When they launched their campaign in the United States, the ad read, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” The dual meaning of the slang term caused both hilarity and doubt in the small appliance.

Oops! An Other Marketing Translation Gone Wrong

When creating a marketing campaign for a non-English speaking country, correct translation is essential. The message can be seriously misinterpreted if the right words are not used. A McDonald’s marking campaign in China is evidence of that.

Their original slogan: “I’m lovin’ it,” was not accurately translated when taken to China. The Chinese slogan: wo jiu xihuan, does not translate directly over into English, but essentially it mean, “I like it no matter what you say!” This gives off the impression that liking the food is not a popular thing, which could be really bad for the company’s image.

According to Columbia University Professor Lening Liu, the problem is in the second word of the slogan. Jiu is a word used when someone is sharing an opinion which is in strong disagreement with others. Professor Liu suggested a variety of other phrases which would have provided a more accurate and positive slogan for the company’s image. Although they would not translate over word-for-word the same, two of Professor Liu’s slogans would have basically meant, “I really like it,” probably a little better than a slogan which implies the food is not enjoyed by most people.

Of course, this slogan is just one example of slogans not translating well. Chinese to English translations are sometimes mocked for their hilarious misinterpretations. While McDonald’s campaign does not seem to have deterred customers, if you would like an accurate marketing translation, make sure you hire the right people.

Since turning a phrase in another language is more difficult than one might assume, please contact us for professional solutions to your translation needs. At Teck Language Solutions, we use only native language speakers. Whether you are looking for a Chinese translation or translation into a variety of other languages, you can know the translator knows the language well and will provide you with the best translation of your marketing campaign. Contact us to learn more about how we can provide your company with a quality translation of your marketing materials.