Even major companies make brand blunders, usually when a new product is launched into a new market.
Such linguistic accidents may be caused by a misunderstanding of the target language and culture.
For a global approach, a general, one-size-fits-all policy is hardly ever practicable. Translating a slogan properly means considering all linguistic and cultural matters, but translators must also accurately recreate the message the company wants to convey.
Here are several translation errors from the marketing industry:
- Perdue is a well-known chicken company in the United States and considered the first brand to use advertising to gain market visibility. Perdue’s English slogan is It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. But the Spanish version, Hace falta un tipo duro para hacer un pollo tierno, translates as It takes a horny man to make a loving chicken.
- While Frank Perdue was making this memorable linguistic faux pas, Parker, the company that became the official pen supplier of the British Royal House in 1962, made a classic mistake when they set out to extend operations to the Mexican market. They translated the English word embarrass with the Spanish embarazar (get pregnant), turning the company’s slogan It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you into It won’t leak in your pocket and get you pregnant.
- In the same vein, the famous brand Pepsi entered the Chinese market with the slogan Pepsi Brings You Back to Life. Unfortunately, little did the company know that the slogan had been translated into Chinese as Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back to Life. In a country where respect for one’s ancestors is such an important cultural value, that slogan will not help you launch your product.
- American Motors is no role model in this respect: the company launched a motor vehicle named Matador, and although they performed market research indicating that matador meant vigour and enthusiasm to their potential customers, they ran into trouble when they launched the model in Puerto Rico. In Spanish, the word matador means killer—hardly an appropriate choice for branding
- The Spanish language was also an issue for Braniff Airlines. When they set out to advertise their increased focus on cosiness by providing leather seats for their passengers, the company used the same advertising campaign they had prepared for the Unites States, under the slogan Fly in Leather. Although the Spanish translation was appropriate for the potential consumer audience in Latin America, it had a different connotation in Mexico, where the phrase Vuela en cuero means Fly Naked – not the message the airline company wanted to convey.
We urge translators to pay special attention to language, culture and geographical matters to convey the message from the source language as accurately as possible. Terms may have more than one meaning, and knowing the terminology and culture of a specific geographical area will help you provide a proper translation.