In the 21st century, the business world is more competitive than ever before. The Internet has made it easier to reach a larger audience, but at the same time, companies must ensure that their message is accurate as they try to reach new markets.
As the world continues to be more interconnected, companies need to ensure they speak to their customers in a way that builds trust. Companies can grow their bottom line by expanding their audience and expanding into untapped markets.
While English might be the most widely spoken language worldwide, it isn’t the only language. Even more important is the fact that people who speak English as a second language often feel more comfortable communicating in their native tongue.
This means that you need to translate your company’s message to different languages that match the culture of your target audience.
While translating a product or service is vital for multilingual marketing campaigns, these translations must be accurate and retain the original meaning between cultures. Translations that are not accurate or culturally relevant will have a harmful effect on your business and could cause your entire marketing campaign to fail in the long run.
You can take note of the mistakes of large companies who failed to engage with their target audience through clear and accurate multilingual translations.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest translation marketing blunders that cost companies millions of dollars so you won’t have to suffer the same consequences!
1. HSBC Bank
“Do Nothing” $10 Million Marketing Campaign
HSBC Holdings, a UK-based financial institution, and it serves millions of people around the world. Due to their global reach, HSBC has to speak the language of their patrons, and in 2009, this mega international bank had to spend $10 million as a result of a major translation mistake.
As part of their multilingual marketing strategy, HSBC Bank worked to expand its “Assume Nothing” slogan to several other languages. This is a great idea because HSBC prides itself on security and transparency with their customers.
However, what wasn’t wise was their failure to proof the translated message to ensure it retained the original meaning. Unfortunately, instead of reading “Assume Nothing,” many translated slogans ended up reading as “Do Nothing.”
The implied meaning of the translated slogan implied that their financial managers do not take action for their customers, which is obviously bad for their brand’s image.
In an effort to re-brand the campaign, HSBC spent $10 million to clean up the translation mistake. After spending such a large sum of money, they came up with a new slogan: “The World’s Local Bank”, which they managed to translate effectively and is still used in many markets today.
This case study shows the importance for multilingual marketing strategies to consider a company’s Value Proposition to ensure the translated message meets the benefits offered by the company.
“Eat Your Fingers Off” Campaign
In 1987 KFC was looking to expand to the Beijing market, and as part of their multilingual marketing strategy the marketing department looked to moved their “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign to the local Chinese market.
While the original message works in English, direct translation does not carry the same cultural significance or implied meaning in Chinese translations.
They company’s slogan, which they’ve used in the US since the 1950s, didn’t exactly translate correctly in Chinese; instead of “Finger Lickin’ Good”, their slogan read “Eat Your Fingers Off.”
While KFC executives wanted the Chinese market to enjoy the fried chicken offered in KFC restaurants, the translated message was definitely not as intended.
To add insult to injury, KFC neglected to research the local Chinese market when planning the multilingual marketing strategy. Market research shows that the Chinese do not lick their fingers as a sign of tasty food, so even if the original message was translated properly, the implied meaning would have fallen short of the intended result.
This case study shows us that companies need accurate translations that fit the target culture, and the message needs to reflect cultural norms.
“Turn It Loose” Campaign
Coors is a popular American beer best known for the mountains on their beer cans that turn blue when cold. In an attempt to reach the Spanish market with English-Spanish translations, Coors launched their “Turn It Loose” campaign in a multilingual marketing campaign.
However, like other case studies on this list, Coors failed to check that the translated message retained the same meaning as the original message. If Coors executives had conducted market research, they would have discovered that “Turn It Loose” in English translated to “Suffer From Diarrhea” in Spanish.
This is one of the most blatant examples of companies failing to ensure their message works in different cultures.
Language carries lots of culture cues and companies need to ensure they are translating messages in a way that retains the original message and does not turn into an undesired message… like having diarrhea from drinking a product.
“Every Car Has a High-Quality Body” Campaign
The American automotive giant, Ford, has been looking to expand in several international markets. Ford executives identified the Belgium market to be a great place to use Dutch translations to focus multilingual marketing campaigns on to increase their presence in that local market.
When expanding to Belgium, the company hoped to attract customers with their catchy “Every Cary Has a High-Quality Body” campaign. However, it turns out that when this slogan is translated from English to the native language that read “Every Car Has a High-Quality Corpse”.
While some customers might have been intrigued by the idea of receiving a corpse with their new car, it’s safe to say that the majority of consumers would be none too pleased.
“Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux” Campaign
When Swedish vacuum manufacturers wanted to show their American audience just how powerful their products were, they learned a quick lesson in the importance of professional translations between English and Swedish.
Their “Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux” campaign was corrected; however, it didn’t exactly appeal to their American audience.
While we couldn’t find an accurate figure, knowing the cost of advertising campaigns – especially international campaigns – it’s safe to assume that the company spent a good chunk of change on a slogan that flopped.
6. American Dairy Association
“Got Milk?” Campaign
Everyone in the United States is familiar with the famous “Got Milk?” slogan, and when the American Dairy Association attempted to use the same Spanish English translated marketing campaign in Mexico, it wasn’t exactly what they hoped for.
Why? – Because the translation of the slogan read “Are You Lactating?”, definitely not what they were hoping to say to their target market.
7. Braniff Airlines
“Fly Naked” Campaign
Braniff Airlines also hit a big snafu when their “Fly in Leather” slogan, which they used to promote their upgraded leather seats, was totally lost in translation.
Turns out that in Spanish, the slogan reads “Fly Naked”, which, unless they were trying to appeal to exhibitionists, is certainly not the message they were trying to relay.
This is just another example about why companies need professional English-Spanish translations for all of their marketing campaigns.
Accurate Translations For Multilingual Marketing Campaigns
If you are trying to reach an international market then your company needs to ensure your translations are accurate and culturally sensitive.
Different groups of people interpret words differently, and you need professional translations from native speakers to ensure your message retains its original meaning between cultures.
Many of the above examples of translation marketing blunders are funny, but what is not funny is the negative impact they had on the brand’s image.
On top of a damaged brand, many of the failed translation campaigns caused the company to fail in their desired market. This lead to millions of lost dollars in advertising costs, plus lost revenue.
Be sure to conduct market research and work with a native speaking translator for all of your multilingual marketing campaigns!