The Art of Translation: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Two years ago, we wrote the article “Hall of Shame: The Art of Translation” showcasing the importance for marketers and advertisers to engage experts in translation and transcreation. The key message was to avoid embarrassing social, lingual and cultural gaffes when marketing to multicultural audiences by considering all angles. It seems that times change, yet human folly is eternal. The following is our updated list of notable translated advertising and marketing materials: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

Chinese translation is one of the most dangerous in multicultural marketing, as brands which are phonetically translated will always carry a new meaning. Mercedes-Benz, to their credit, phonetically translated their brand “Benz” into 雑貨屋

(phonetically: ben-chi), which means “speeding flight”. Another Chinese example is the French hypermarket chain Carrefour, who’ve done wonders for their brand presence in China with their translation into 家樂福 (phonetically: jia-le-fu), which means “Family, Joy and Blessings”.

The Bad

Car manufacturer Chevy, attempt to market the Nova model to South America failed as “No-Va” means “it doesn’t go”. The telecom company Orange launched in Ireland with the slogan: “The future, bright, the future, Orange”. In Northern Ireland however, the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The message implied that the ‘future is bright; the future is Protestant (and loyalist)’. This message didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population. Nike’s 1887 “flaming air” logo drew controversy from the Muslim world as it looked too similar to “Allah” in Arabic. 38,000 pairs of sneakers were pulled from the market.

The Ugly

Coffee franchise giant Starbucks became a little too intimate with millions of Germans, with giant billboards reading “Enjoy Your Morning Latte”. Translation experts could have informed Starbucks that “‘age” is the German term for erection. Coors released their beer in Spanish speaking markets with their tried and true refrain to “Turn it Loose”, which in Spanish means “Get Diarrhoea, In an unintentional illustration of the danger of marketing to Chinese speaking customers, Pepsi’s slogan in Taiwan –”come alive with the Pepsi generation” was met with bewilderment as in Chinese it became ” Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. In an age where so many people are bilingual and even a click of a button can translate a copy, manY marketers neglect tc engage experts who specialise in the culture of the audience. Language translation in context is meaningful and enhances both brand image and market positioning. However, translating directly without an eye on the marketing context, can be harmful to the brand. It is increasingly clear that there are few aspects of marketing as seemingly simple yet full of pitfalls as translation.

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