Global translation creates humour, danger or success. What does your product say to the world?

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Car manufacturers have driven their humour around the globe for decades.

Chevrolet released their Nova, but forgot to check the meaning in Spanish: “no go” is maybe not a name to inspire confidence in car drivers?

American Motors proudly named their new car model, Matador, not appreciating that in Spanish, this translates to “killer”. Sort of brings new insight to safety first.

The Mitsubishi Pajero first entered the Spanish market as “jerk”, for “Pajero” means “jerk” in Spanish.

Mazda – not to be outdone here. The Mazda LaPuta… Let’s leave it there.

Food is a classic topic for fun.

Menus in Greece regularly feature “lamp”; Chinese menus provide an abundant source of exploding chicken humour, spicy “crap” dip, and “husband and wife lung slice,” – amongst other body parts. And not excepting Swiss neutrality, “amusement with cheese” is a Swiss menu highlight.

Big brands also provide food for thought:

American Dairy Association’s “Got Milk?” campaign was infamously launched in Spanish as – “Are You Lactating?”

A KFC Beijing restaurant displayed the “finger-lickin’ good” slogan as “eat your fingers off” in Chinese.

Coca Cola’s Chinese branding debut is famous for its translation as “Bite the wax tadpole”.

Laughs aside, localisation effects business. Can you afford to get it wrong?

HSBC Bank was forced to rebrand at the cost of $10 million dollars after its “Assume nothing” campaign was translated as “Do Nothing” [source].

BMW mistakenly offended its audience when its ad displayed the Al Ain Football Club singing the anthem and then breaking away in a run towards BMW cars as their engines started up. BMW aimed to associate positive emotion with its brand, but instead, evoked rage. Emiratis took offensive that the ad showed cars as more important than their anthem [source].

Dolce & Gabbana  shared ads on social media showing a Chinese woman directed by a male voice how to eat Italian foods with chopsticks. The ad was denounced as racist, and Chinese consumers – one of Dolce & Gabbana’s largest markets – threatened brand boycott. Zuo Ye whose modelling career was trampled by the event explains the outrage is “about representing the national image of China and Chinese culture” [source].

Getting your message wrong costs. It damages image and sales. For targeted cultural communication, customisation is key. For text, this includes all aspects of language: accent, dialect, word choice, colloquialisms, slang and polite phrases. Move to video and we add in music, visuals, gestures and trends. 

Advice? Get to know your local brand fans – who they are and how they respond to media forms, styles and content. Respond to them as individual people within their context while making sure you respect your whole global audience to safeguard your brand as well as grow local business success.

Remember also that people, as well as adverts are global. Your communications must be respectful across all cultures wherever they appear as people travel from place to place and platform to platform. Tweets send fast and screenshots save in a click. There is no going back. Seek expert advice – engage localisation professionals. Customise locally and focus globally.

Kim Karmozyn is the Global CEO at Aplomb Translations,
a company with 31 years of localisation experience.