The Challenges of Marketing Translation―How to Translate Brand Messaging

  |  December 19, 2018

When undertaking a marketing translation project for new markets, challenges often arise surrounding company brand messaging. Researching the meaning of a brand and its slogans in advance for different target markets, including local variations in language, can save money and embarrassment and help ensure the new venture’s success.

Here are just a few branding and marketing translation blunders from history:

  • Back in 2009, HSBC Bank was forced to spend $10 million on a frantic rebranding campaign to reverse the damage from a poor branding choice. Their new catchphrase “Assume Nothing” actually translated to “Do Nothing” in many different countries.
  • As Pepsi was exploding in popularity worldwide during the 1960s, they attempted to enter the Chinese market with their popular “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation” slogan. It was not a hit; in fact, it was offensive, considering that in Chinese their slogan translated to “Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead.”
  • Popular whiskey brand Canadian Mist failed miserably in German markets because “Mist” in German means “manure.”
  • A Coors Beer slogan, “Turn it loose,” was translated into Spanish for an overseas campaign, resulting in the slogan: “Suffer from Diarrhea.” You can guess how that worked out.

Should you consider changing up your marketing messages when you enter a foreign language market? Considering the following questions can help your company make a wise decision.

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Does Your Brand Messaging Translate Easily Into the Target Language?

One of the first considerations of your marketing translation efforts should be to discover if your company brand messaging is easily translated into the target language, and if it is an acceptable choice.

Words that are spelled or pronounced the same as your brand in the target language bring their own meanings and connotations, and this can be good or bad.

In one of the earlier examples above, “Mist” was an established word in the German language, but its meaning was not compatible with the product being marketed. Obviously, if your brand messaging is something offensive or unsavory in the target language, you should consider renaming for that market.

Should Your Marketing Translation Include Changing the Brand Message?

Sometimes rewording your messaging is the obvious solution to avoid serious problems, but how do you choose an alternate?

Is it possible to choose wording related to the original but without any negative connotations? Often, translators will transliterate or transcreate words to produce acceptable replacements in foreign markets.

Reproducing the spelling or sound of the original messaging in the script of the target language without regard for meaning is known as transliteration. For example, in many markets, the brand Adidas sounds almost the same, and in many cases, it carries no particular meaning. So, the Adidas brand is safely used in most markets with only minor alterations for localization.

Transcreation involves recreating the meaning of the original brand. Translation and transcreation are related processes, but transcreation involves further modifying the wording to better communicate a more acceptable meaning that relates to the brand.

For example, computer processor giant Intel designed a campaign for Brazilian markets with the wording, “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow.” But research revealed that “Sponsors of Tomorrow” in Portuguese left the impression that Intel would not deliver on its promises immediately, but would put them off until the future.

The campaign therefore became “Intel: In Love with the Future.” In that way, the intent of the message was kept, but the text became different.

Are There Advantages to Having a Foreign Brand Message?

In the realm of business and marketing translation, there are times when foreign wording—or even messaging that just sounds foreign—can work to your advantage.

Think about how the products below are associated with certain regions or countries. The “best” brands of these products come from:

  • Japan—electronics
  • France—cosmetics
  • Italy—clothing fashions
  • Germany—automobiles
  • Switzerland—chocolate, watches
  • Brazil—coffee
  • Canada—maple syrup

If your target market feels positively about buying foreign products and believes they are of better quality, you may want to consider whether or not their perception of your language is a good fit for your brand.

What About Legal Concerns and Marketing Translation?

Your company’s name is obviously an important part of your brand messaging. Because of that, there are some important things to consider.

In some regions and/or countries, business names must be translated into certain languages in order to comply with local laws. In Quebec, Canada, all business names and signs must be printed in French unless your brand is an official registered trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Bear in mind, however, that while conforming with local laws is necessary, you still must protect your company reputation. Research the local language situation before deciding on how you can best comply with local laws.

In the above example, your brand may be received better as-is, and it would be worth the effort to register it with the Canadian IPO.

Choosing the Right Marketing Translation Partner

These and other concerns are incredibly important to the profitability, or even survival, of your business. You should choose a marketing translation partner that is familiar with these issues and has the experience to help you navigate international translation successfully.

International Language Services has been providing companies just like yours top-quality, reliable marketing translation services for over 35 years. When it’s time for your company to add a new language to its business and marketing portfolio, you can rest assured we have the expertise you need.