Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders

using transcreation

Translation is the verbatim transfer of text from one language to another. On the other hand, transcreation (translation + creation) is the act of changing words and phrases to make their meanings culturally appropriate for targeted markets. Using transcreation helps to avoid not just the big mistakes, but also the slight subtleties that can slip through unnoticed and cause big problems.

You see, sometimes word-for-word translations simply don’t cut it. When you’re taking your brand and marketing campaigns into different countries, there are all kinds of language traps you can fall into. Transcreation is a process that can help ensure that your marketing messages are safely translated. The following are examples of big brands that relied too much on direct translation.

Braniff Airlines: Fly Naked With Us (Mexico)

In 1987, Braniff released an ad targeting its Spanish-speaking customers, and it couldn’t have gone over worse in Mexico.

The intent was to use the airline’s tagline Fly in Leather to suggest a luxury traveling experience on its flights. However, the Spanish translation, Vuela en Cuero, had a completely different meaning to Mexicans, where the phrase was understood by many as Fly Naked. Although en cuero does literally mean in leather, it sounds almost the same as en cueros, a phrase that means naked.

Nike: Getting Fat in China

In 2015, Nike celebrated the Chinese New Year with a big fat translation error. Nike’s Air Force 1 shoe designed for the Chinese market bore ideographs that were meant to express new-year blessings. Instead, Nike committed an embarrassing cultural blunder.

The Chinese character Fa (becoming rich) was placed on the left shoe and Fu (happiness) on the right. However, the two characters placed next to each other translate to getting fat. Not exactly the right message to appeal to Chinese runners.

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GPT: It’s Better to Let It Out (France)

During 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) teamed up with the British telecom giant Plessy. This partnership was rebranded as GPT. Unfortunately, this wasn’t appreciated by the French because the initials GPT are pronounced as J’ai pété, which had the rather unfortunate meaning in French of I’ve farted. Silly indeed, but the error damaged the reputation of the brand.

Perdue Farms: X-Rated Chickens (Spanish Speakers)

Frank Perdue is often regarded as the creator of the first brand for chicken products. During the 1970s, Frank was inspired to coin the slogan It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. Advertising Age ranked the resulting ad campaign as one of 1971’s finest.

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Sadly, this slogan was challenging to translate well, and Spanish-speaking audiences got something closer to It takes a vigorous man to make a chicken affectionate. Even for the ’70s, that was pushing it a bit.

Mercedes-Benz: Living Is Overrated (China)

The luxury car giant entered the Chinese market under the brand name Bensi, which unfortunately means Rush to Your Death in Chinese. Not exactly the kind of image you want to promote if you are a car brand.

Mercedes-Benz realized its error and didn’t let this go on for too long. It changed its Chinese name to Ben Chi, which translates to something more like Dashing Speed, a subtle alteration that made all the difference.

Diapers From Turkey

In the Turkish language, pedo simply means children. Children wear diapers, so why not call your brand pedo? Unfortunately, it turned out that a product named PEDO with happy babies depicted all over the packaging didn’t go down very well in several overseas markets.

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The Effect of Translation Errors

Translation mistakes like these might be amusing when you read about them, but they are no laughing matter if they adversely affect your brand’s message. The big boys such as Nike can probably afford a marketing slip up now and then, but a smaller company might permanently lose its marketing share. Using transcreation can help you avoid sending the wrong message and finding out how costly your mistake turns out to be.

Using Transcreation to Get the Right Message Across

Transcreation takes more time and resources than a word-for-word text translation, but the extra effort and expense can pay dividends. To transcreate your content effectively, you need to work with native speakers who can create copy that reflects the message you actually want to send. Transcreation can be especially useful when translating the following:

  • Idioms
  • Taglines
  • General branding materials
  • Humor
  • Country-specific phrases
  • Wordplay

Here are a few examples of words that can get you into trouble:

Puff in Germany – In German, puff is nota fluffy pastry like a cream puff. Instead, it’s a slang term for a brothel.

Cookie in Hungary – Think twice about using the word cookie if that’s what you are selling. The word for these exported baked goodies is pronounced very similarly to the Hungarian word koki, which means an undersized certain part of the male anatomy, if you get the drift.

Preservatives in France – If you are writing about preservatives in your food products (or the lack of them), stay away from the French word préservatif because it means a condom.

Salsa in Korea – If you’re trying to sell salsa in Korea, you may want to think about calling salsa sauce or picante. The thing is, salsa sounds very like seolsa, which means diarrhea in Korean.

American vs. British English

Using transcreation can also be helpful where a brand’s creator and its intended recipients speak the same language. For example, the British might not understand some American phrases and vice versa.

  • Examples: Americans targeting a UK audience should be careful about using the word fanny. In US English, it means the backside, but in British English, it’s a rude word for a woman’s private parts. The same goes for the word poof. No matter if you heard it from Monty Python, it’s a derogatory term used to describe gay people.

Using Transcreation: How Localize Can Help

Using transcreation rather than just simple translation can enable you to successfully adapt your marketing messages to avoid translation blunders. With a cultural understanding of each of your target markets, you can ensure your campaigns are suitable for each language before they go live.

Your translators can interact with Localize’s translation/localization platform to ensure your global messages have a local touch. Please contact us to learn more about our services.

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