Marketing Translations Fails: How to Avoid Common Mistakes

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Let’s face it, marketing translation gone wrong is every business’s worst nightmare, and no customer forgets marketing translation fails. Each and every time you embark on a new marketing strategy, your team has undoubtedly put significant effort into market research, figuring out how to resonate with your target demographic. Why let all of this hard work go to waste with easily avoidable mistakes in your marketing translations and marketing localization projects?

Translation Quality Management: You Get What You Pay For!

It may seem like the easier option to use your in-house team to handle your marketing translations, if they happen to speak another language. However, the aim of marketing translation services is to create fresh content that has the same impact as your original marketing material. Recreating not just words but the meaning and feel of a marketing campaign takes more than just linguistic knowledge. This requires cultural and social awareness, language skills, and a capacity for creativity. Professional translators adapt material in a way that maintains the integrity of the source text while ensuring it’s both relatable and eye-catching for your new target market versus simply a “direct” or “word-for-word” translation.

Translator Knows Best: Missed Marketing Translation Errors

Relying on machine translation alone can leave your marketing campaign open to potentially embarrassing marketing blunders in new language regions. The Internet is full of seemingly hilarious marketing translation fails that each of the companies would rather have never happened (or that they had hired a better language services provider!). 

For example, when Ford mis-translated ‘Every car has a high quality body’ into “Every car has a high quality corpse’ for the Belgian market. Or Pepsi enticing their Chinese consumers with the promise that Pepsi would bring their dead ancestors back from the grave! Recently, Facebook blamed a technical error for an embarrassing translation error where Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name appeared as “Mr Shithole ” when auto- translated into English. 

Of course, these mistakes may elicit laughter, but in real terms, they represent significant lost revenues and valuable resources that could have easily been avoided altogether with help of professional native-speaking translators, who would have spotted such obvious errors immediately.

Without that human touch, considering culture, social influences, not to mention the unique sentence structure and syntax of a new language, your marketing translations will come across limp and will fail to catch the attention of your new audience. 

Share Ideas, Not Just Source Text

Remember that even the best translator is not a mind reader. To properly convey your message in a new language, they must fully understand what you’re trying to say. Consider sharing any tips or ideas that you provided to your original marketing team to your marketing translations agency too. These are the experts at the front line of your target language global marketing campaign. Giving them the same insight into your marketing goals, you improve their ability to efficiently translate (or transcreate) those concepts into your target language in a way that makes sense, linguistically and culturally.

Always Be Culturally Aware

It’s not enough to be a native speaker of your target language, when your translator has lived in the actual region your marketing campaign is targeting, it ensures that they are immersed enough in the local cultural and social context to understand how these may affect your marketing translations, and take appropriate measures to help you seamlessly integrate into that target market. We often hear the phrase ‘there is no substitute for real-life experience’. This is equally true for effective marketing translations services!

Respect Same Language Regional Differences

With many languages spoken in multiple regions; from French to Spanish to Portuguese and English, it’s worth considering when attempting to market to a region, using the same language content that was originally created for another. 

Just as you wouldn’t expect your Chinese customers to be content being sold to through English, you should always pay attention to your target market. To ignore different dialects would be a huge marketing translation fail. You may not notice, but your consumers want to feel that you are marketing directly to them, not at their language counterparts in another part of the world.

For example, you may want to market your product to Chinese-speaking customers overseas. Besides Mainland China, you would also need to consider other large Chinese-speaking markets, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and others where there are large ethnic Chinese communities. While they all largely speak Mandarin Chinese (except for Hong Kong, which uses the Cantonese dialect), the writing system used in Mainland China and Singapore, known as “Simplified Chinese,” differs from what is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which is “Traditional Chinese.” In this example, you may consider using just one version to save on costs, but using “Simplified Chinese” to an audience of 24 million people in Taiwan would likely cause you to not sell any products, as it would be seen as “political” messaging from an enemy, namely Mainland China.

Moreover, in American and British English, consumers in either market would instantly recognize differences between these dialects. Failing to cater to these differences runs the risk of alienating potential customers. An easily recognizable example is date formatting: the UK prefers Day/Month/Year while the US uses Month/Day/Year. You can imagine the confusion if the wrong format was used in your brand new marketing campaign! 

However, it’s not just formatting that can cause problems “across the pond”. In the US, a ‘homely’ person is considered plain or even ugly so would likely be viewed as offensive or insulting. Whereas in the UK, ‘homely’ conveys a sense of comfort, warmth and coziness. A ‘moot point’ is an arguable point in the US yet an irrelevant point in the UK. Many people have an emotional attachment to their own native dialect and can feel confused or indignant to be marketed to in the wrong one. 

Focus on Your Customer Experience: Avoid White Washing Translations

Some assume that to avoid dialect contradictions, the best route is ‘international English’. The phrases ‘mid-atlantic english’ or ‘easy-to-translate language’ are enemies of effective marketing translation services. Watering down your language translations or writing original copy that puts the focus on later translations rather than your consumers is a marketing translation error that has a negative effect on even the source text. The goal of any marketing campaign should be to know your target audience, understand what makes them tick and sell to them, in a way that makes them want to buy. 

Translation Quality Management: Never Skip Editing/Proofreading

Quality control is imperative. Mistakes can happen, and any linguist will tell you that a translation is only as good as the final edit. Without functional translation quality control measures, mistakes can be missed. Make sure that your marketing translations are proofread by specialist native translators and edited by post-editors, if needed, before receiving final approval. At PGLS, we have stringent quality control measures in place, based on ISO and ASTM International Standards, for your peace of mind. In fact, we’re even ISO 9001:2015 Certified!

By following these tips and investing the same time and effort into your marketing translations as your original marketing efforts, you will ensure that your marketing translations resonate with your new customers, just as you intended. At PGLS, we can be an extension of your in-house marketing team, leveraging our experience translating, localizing and transcreating marketing material into over 200 languages to benefit your global marketing strategy. Our dedicated team of professional linguists and industry specific experts will speak to your target language markets, not just at them.