Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders

Image: transcreation

Advertising and marketing campaigns are notoriously difficult to translate. And sometimes, literal translations don’t cut it.

Translation is the word-for-word 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 appropriate for a specific regional audience. Transcreation helps brands avoid marketing blunders caused by translation mistakes.

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.

6 Infamous Branding Blunders

The following are examples of big brands that relied too much on direct translation instead of transcreation in their advertising.

1: McDonald’s Food: It’s sort of OK, I guess…

Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders 1

In 2015, McDonald’s launched a famous ad campaign with the tagline, I’m Lovin’ It. When translated, the tagline didn’t work well in certain countries. For example, McDonald’s China used “我就喜欢 (wo jiu xihuan)” as their slogan. Loosely translated, this means, “I like it no matter what you say.” Some people thought the tagline sounded too negative about McDonald’s. That’s not the kind of message most marketers want to send.


2: Nike: Gaining Weight in China
Image: Nike wasn't using transcreation when they created these shoes

In 2015, Nike celebrated the Chinese New Year with a big translation error. Nike’s Air Force 1 shoe for the Chinese market bore ideographs that were meant to express new-year blessings. Unfortunately, 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.


3: GPT: It’s Better to Let It Out in France
Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders 2

In 1988, the General Electric Company (GE) teamed up with the British telecom giant Plessy. This partnership was rebranded as GPT. 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.


4: Perdue Farms: X-Rated Chickens
Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders 3

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. Sadly, this slogan was challenging to translate. 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.


5: Mercedes-Benz: Living Is Overrated

Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders 4

The luxury car giant entered the Chinese market under the brand name Bensi. Although Bensi has a nice ring to it, advertisers missed something important. Unfortunately, Bensi means Rush to Your Death in Chinese. It’s not exactly the kind of image you want to promote for a car brand. Mercedes-Benz realized its error and didn’t let this go on for too long. The marketers at Mercedes used transcreation to swap the Chinese name to Ben Chi, which translates to something more like Dashing Speed, a subtle alteration that made all the difference.


6: Inappropriate Diapers From Turkey

Using Transcreation to Prevent Marketing Blunders 5

In the Turkish language, pedo simply means children. Children wear diapers, so why not call your brand pedo? Unfortunately, it turned out that a Turkish brand named PEDO didn’t do very well in overseas markets where the word had a much more negative connotation.


Avoid Errors with Transcreation

Translation mistakes like these might be amusing when you read about them, but they’re no laughing matter if they adversely affect your brand’s message. Big brands like Nike can probably afford a marketing slip up now and then, but a smaller company might permanently lose its market share. Using transcreation can help you avoid sending the wrong message and making costly mistakes.

Use 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 want to send.

Transcreation can be especially useful when translating the following:

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

In your global marketing campaigns, it pays to try transcreation so you won’t miss important cultural differences. Here are a few examples of words that can get you into trouble:

    • Puff in Germany – In German, a puff is not a 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 a certain part of the male anatomy, if you get the drift.
    • Preservatives in France – If you are writing about preservatives in your food products, stay away from the French word préservatif because it means condom.
    • Salsa in Korea – If you’re trying to sell salsa in Korea, you may want to think about calling salsa sauce or picante. Salsa sounds similar to 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. Americans targeting a UK audience should be careful about using the word poof. In US English, it’s a fluffy object like an ottoman, but in British English, it’s a derogatory term.

Using Transcreation: How Localize Can Help

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

Your translators can interact with Localize’s platform to ensure your global messages have a local touch. Contact us to learn how we can help take your international campaigns to new heights!

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