If Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken can make expensive, comical international marketing mistakes, with all of the marketing translation these giant corporations have done over decades, then it’s clearly easy. Endless possibilities for mis-communication exist, ranging from inaccurate word choices to the inappropriateness sometimes of saying anything at all.
An example of the latter is when Coca Cola once stamped the bottoms of Coke bottles in some countries with the advice “OPEN OTHER END”.
An early translation lesson is that colloquialisms and slang must be handled skillfully. Clairol’s curling iron called “Mist Stick” was introduced to the German market without translating or changing the name, not taking into account that “mist” is slang for manure in German. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened in China in the 1980s with their traditional slangy slogan “Finger-lickin’ good”, which translates to a catchy “Eat your fingers off” in Chinese.
Different sentence structure in a target language can also turn a phrase the wrong way. Pepsi translated its slogan, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” into Arabic in such a way that its new marketing translation promised, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
Even when you think you’re avoiding one trap, you might walk right into a different one. A prominent drug company used pictures rather than phrases for a product they marketed in the United Arab Emirates, specifically in order to avoid language errors. The first picture showed a sick face, the second a person taking the medication, and the third showed a healthy face. But Arab readers read from right to left.
These stories are funny to read about, but not the least bit entertaining to be part of. The answer to the puzzle that is international marketing translation begins not with guessing, hoping, and winging it with Google translate or untrained speakers of the target language, but with professional marketing translators who have lengthy experience providing in-depth, native resources in every country in which you want to introduce your product.
As you work with such a language service provider, keep in mind the following key points for the practice of marketing translations that bring to life exactly what you want to sell.
Make a thorough and intelligent analysis ahead of time of your communication desires, before any of the marketing translation work begins. Many changes may be required, and it’s possible that significant portions of your existing texts and layouts will not be usable.
Think of the process this way: your marketing translation must be generated from your core product concepts and the preferences of your target audience, not from your source-language marketing materials.
In addition to content changes, there are physical and practical considerations such as the way a language moves, the space it requires, the types of symbols, calendars, clocks, and programming codes needed. Pay close attention to all details so that none of them are overlooked – even tiny missteps harm your credibility.
You will want to seek and rely on marketing translation experts with intimate knowledge of your audience and the precise region you are targeting; be wary of superficial or secondhand information, clichés, and erroneous preconceptions. It is not wise to avoid this research by simply generalizing: if your resulting marketing translations are too “global” then they may just be too bland and vague to allow anyone to identify with them.
Be prepared: international marketing translation is tricky and time-consuming, requiring more resources and higher levels of talent and experience than most translation jobs.