American Airlines spent tons of money reupholstering seats in their entire fleet and then of course spent more publicising this fact. They ran ads in all leading newspapers and magazines with the headline “Fly in leather”, for now they knew they had an edge over their competitors. Excited by their terrific ad campaign they decided to take it across borders and share it with their potential Spanish speaking customers. Of course, this time they translated it in Spanish, so that it would have a wider appeal. However what they got was rather unexpected. A lot of Spanish speaking people complained about these advertisements. Much to the horror of the airline, when they looked at the Spanish advertisement & translated them back again in English they realized, their snappy headline “Fly in leather” had changed to “Fly Naked”!

Don’t Translate
Just because you have a great ad-campaign, does not guarantee success in all markets. Since business today is done in multiple markets, each different from the other in terms of culture, language, religion et al, it makes sense to be ‘culturally sensitive’ while doing business.

As a starter – don’t translate – if you want to avoid global mishaps and embarrassments. The Dairy Milk Association learnt it the hard way. After its hugely successful campaign “Got Milk” popularized the benefits of milk in US, the company decided to continue its victory march to Mexico with the same campaign. However it had to beat a hasty retreat after it realised that the Spanish translation actually read – “Are you lactating”. Wrong translations landed Parker Pens in trouble when the ads which were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” turned into “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. Coors beer wanted to show you how you could let your hair down and have fun with Coors, when it made its tagline “Turn it loose”. The Spaniards were not pleased when they saw a beer that helped you “Get loose bowels”. The Chinese too got really suspicious of this drink which promised to “Bring your ancestors back from the dead”. The various Chinese characters had distorted the phrase “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation!”. Unfortunately, no one in China (which is already heavily populated) wanted to bring their ancestors back!

Today, every brand is on the lookout for broader markets – mostly international. Many times, it is the language barrier that can harm a campaign & even the overall brand. To reach new markets, mere “translations” never work. From the obvious, hilarious faux pas, to the serious marketing blunders, everything can be avoided if we look beyond translation.

We need to look beyond the language and into the cultural differences in languages. We need to “transcreate”. Quickly defined, it would mean “not just translating content, but ensuring it is culturally relevant as well”. Such a measure will take care of the cultural differences & language nuances.     Read More....

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