In previous blog posts, we have alluded to the cruciality of considering other countries’ linguistic idiosyncrasies in developing any form of international market communication. As Fatiha Guessabi writes, the “meanings of a particular language represent the culture of a particular social group. To interact with a language means to do so with the culture, which is its reference point.” Hence, language discrepancies in international market communication have implications far beyond mere translation errors; they have the potential to deter and offend consumers based on cultural sensibilities.
The three principal translation mistakes that can transpire in international market communication concern either simple carelessness, multiple-meaning words, or idioms. Here we will provide some real-world examples of these mistakes.
When Coors decided to introduce its “Turn it Loose” beer campaign in Spain, executives did not seem to double check whether the Spanish translation of this campaign name would be appropriate. It ended up being an expression that is typically interpreted as “suffer from diarrhea.” Spanish consumers consequently avoided purchasing Coors beer for a period of time.
Ford Motor Company instituted a campaign in Belgium that was intended to emphasize the superb manufacturing quality of its cars. English-speaking executives settled on a campaign tagline saying, “Every car has a high-quality body.” When it was translated for the Belgian market, however, it read, “Every car has a high-quality corpse,” which certainly disconcerted Belgian consumers.
Swedish home appliance manufacturer Electrolux launched its vacuum cleaners in the United States with a campaign boasting, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” This sentence is technically free from grammatical inaccuracies, but in the context of American slang, it casts Electrolux in an unfavorable light. Thus, the campaign never resonated with American consumers.
When Gerber brought its baby food products to France, it discovered that its advertising initiatives were largely futile, since the word “gerber” sounds extremely similar to the French word meaning “to vomit.” This unfortunate fact, combined with the appearance and texture of Gerber’s baby food, drove French consumers away from the brand. It also scared off some consumers in the French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada.
Skye Schooley demonstrates that, in order to prevent translation blunders, executives can localize their content, utilize the most pertinent mediums of communication in the applicable foreign market, and cross-reference campaigns with local experts. Executives can even research successful advertisements in their target country for inspiration. And in order to rectify existing translation blunders, executives should directly address the problem, assume full responsibility, and issue a culturally sensitive public apology.
Guessabi, F. (n.d.) Blurring the Line between Language and Culture. Language Magazine. https://www.languagemagazine.com/blurring-the-line-between-language-and-culture/.
Schooley, S. (2019, August 12). Lost in Translation: 10 International Marketing Fails. Business News Daily. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5241-international-marketing-fails.html.
10 International Marketing Fails Due to the Lack of Translation and Localization Services. (n.d.) Language Connections. https://www.languageconnections.com/blog/funny-marketing-mistranslations-translation-localization/.