4 sources of marketing translation errors

When we think about marketing translation errors, small companies often come to mind, but the biggest groups are responsible for the worst of them.

When we think about marketing translation, it’s easy to imagine small companies that don’t have enough means to finance a marketing department or call on a quality translation agency. However, the reality is a little different: the biggest groups are responsible for the worst marketing translation mistakes.

Error # 1: The challenge of transcription – the case of food

Beyond errors in the choice of product, there may be problems in transcribing the brand name. Coca-Cola experienced this on the Chinese market: it was necessary to find something that resembled the original sounds without meaning, according to dialects “Horse stuffed with wax” or “Bite the wax Toad”. Also, pay attention to the translation of advertising slogans: KFC´s “Finger lickin’ good” became, and still is in China, “Eat your fingers”.

Error # 2: The risks of literal translation – the case of Aeronautics

Another case of a poorly translated slogan, that of the airline Braniff Airlines. Very proud of their new leather seats, they had the idea to sell them with this simple but effective slogan: “Fly in leather”. Well done, advertisers. Only, to adapt it to the Mexican market, it would have to be a little more than a simple “Vuela in cuero”. Unless you have launched the first naturist airline…

Error # 3: The problems with non-translation – the case of cosmetics

In some cases, not translating can be worse than badly translating. As proven by the brand of handkerchiefs Puffs, from the United States, which continues to market itself under this name in Britain and in Germany. Has no one told them that it refers to, respectively, a brothel and pejoratively, a homosexual?

Error # 4: The drama of ambiguity – the case of domestic appliances

You call yourself Mr. Electrolux, you are Swedish, and you want to sell your vacuums in the United States, because you think the market is flourishing. You have a reasonable knowledge of the language of Elvis (we are in the 1960s) and you decide “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” is an excellent translation for your Swedish slogan. Except that in Yankee slang, it means that nothing is as bad as an Electrolux…

Marketing campaigns can be sources of absurd, or even funny translation errors. Advertising translation cannot be improvised, both from the cultural point of view and a linguistic point of view. The challenge is not only to avoid translation errors, but also adapt the message to the local market. The same slogan will be a best-seller in one country and leave residents skeptical in another country.

Businesses, big and small, must appeal to the best resources available to translate their marketing documents. Whether it is for a financial translation, a legal translation or a marketing translation, quality is paramount. At the risk of being unable to make heads or tails of it.

Translation into English: Chloe Findlay

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