Marketing Translation Missteps

Localization Gone Bad: Marketing Missteps

Category: Marketing Translation

It’s often said that language and translation are two of the biggest obstacles to successfully launching and managing a brand in global markets. Many businesses spend millions to create beautiful campaigns in their primary markets, and then those funds — and sometimes the company’s reputation along with it — go down the drain because they skimp on localization when they roll out their campaigns globally. From the poorly translated menus and signs to major mishaps that cost companies millions of dollars, the examples are many — and embarrassing:

  • American Airlines introduced its new leather first-class seats in Mexico with a literal translation of their tagline “Fly in Leather”, which in Spanish means “fly naked.”
  • The Coors slogan “Turn It Loose” became “Suffer from Diarrhea” in Spanish.
  • Pepsi’s Taiwan launch of their “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” became “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
  • The Perdue Chicken tagline “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” was translated with a much more…intimate…meaning on billboards all over Mexico.

Also remember that localization includes taking into account cultural, religious and political considerations. For example, recently, Gap Inc. made a misstep when it introduced its high-profile 1969 jeans brand as a key part of their marketing in China. Yet Gap didn’t consider that while 1969 was a year of inspiring change in the United States, the year — at the waning days of the destructive Cultural Revolution — signifies something very different to the Chinese.

Speaking of China, Groupon launched there in March of this year. Six short months later, they’ve just announced layoffs, a retrenchment of their reach, and a rethinking of its strategy. According to FastCompany.com the online coupon giant lacked a strategy (!), didn’t listen to their local partners, and blundered even before the actual launch. Remember their infamous Super Bowl ads, highlighting the touchy subject of Tibet? Well, these quickly spread across the Chinese blogosphere, getting them some bad press in country, a month prior to their official launch date.

Marketing localization blunders can even extend into illegality. For instance, in Germany, it’s against the law to use any comparative statements in your advertising, and if you do, a competitor can sue you. Belgium and Luxembourg also ban comparative advertising, and it’s heavily regulated in Asia.

It’s clear that spending time and money to localize marketing should be a priority for any organization. If not, you take the risk of losing the money you spend on your global campaign — and to repair your image, you’ve got to add public relations spend to your budget.

With some research, though, and a good language partner that can help with translation, transcreation, and cultural norms, it’s possible to get it right when you’re moving into your target global markets. Coke, Levi’s, and Volvo can all point to big successes in moving campaigns and brands abroad — the result in large part to effective localization and having done some thinking ahead of time.

Every culture will respond to a brand differently. Researchers Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (FYI: PDF download from this link) identified five ways in which cultural diversity can affect business:

  • universalism versus particularism (rules versus relationships)
  • communitarianism versus individualism (group versus individual)
  • neutral versus emotional (the range of feelings expressed)
  • diffuse versus specific (the range of involvement)
  • achievement versus ascription (how status is accorded)

Here’s to your perfectly translated success!

Photo Credit: Donnie Ray Jones