Translation Services: Errors in Advertising

By: Armando Riquier

New product launches command a good slice of the translation services market.

When businesses expand into off shore markets with a new product launch, advertising plays a big part in boosting product visibility. This is where a reliable provider of translation services steps in. Advertising copy must be error free and must also be couched in language that appeals to the audience in the region targeted for the launch -- both are vital to marketing success.

Quite often, there is also a large foreign language speaking population within a region or country, even though the national language may be English. For instance, there is a large Hispanic population in the U.S., apart from a sizeable number of French, German, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese speakers. There is consequently a great need for corporate translation services to meet the demand for creating bi-lingual promotional literature including brochures, product catalogues and in-flight magazines that are literally bursting with advertisements. Consumer product manufacturers set aside huge advertisement budgets for popularising their products off shore, and cannot afford to allow any mis-translations or even an occasional faux pas to creep into their promotional literature.

Unfortunately, instances of translation errors and cultural mismatch do happen occasionally, which can be a costly experience to manufacturers. The Spanish equivalent of the word "advertising" is "propaganda," which does not sound well at all in the English language, and may be counterproductive to the advertiser's objective.

Translation gaffes encountered in advertising copy have been reproduced several times in case studies and in articles to highlight what should not be done by a good translation services agency.

A US telephone company telecast a TV commercial in which a Latino wife asks her husband to call a friend to say that they would be late for dinner. The commercial was distasteful to the Latino audience, since Latino women would never think of asking their husbands to carry out a task or even a simple chore.

The Matador was so christened by American Motors to project an illusion of courage and strength in the new car. But unfortunately, matador means "killer" in Puerto Rico and the name did not augur well for the country's unsafe roads.

An American cooking oil company's efforts to launch their product in a Latin American country were taken aback to learn that the brand name of the cooking oil when translated into Spanish read as "Jackass Oil."

A man and his dog were the subject of an advertisement for men's cologne, but it was completely rejected by the Islamic markets, because dogs are considered unclean in these parts.

In a television spot for Proctor & Gamble's soaps shown in Japan, a man enters the bathroom while his wife is shown to be bathing. To the Japanese, this is an unacceptable invasion of privacy, and was considered to be in very poor taste.

The Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" was not too impressive in China, because it translated as "eat your fingers off" - a completely bewildering interpretation to the locals.

Braniff International Airways was referring to the superbly comfortable leather seats in the aircraft when they proclaimed that they fly "en cuero." It turned out that "en cuero" means "naked" when translated in Spanish!

With global economies booming as never before, we find that the demand for translation services is rising steadily. In virtually every aspect of business, from translation of documents to advertisements and brochures, and multilingual websites, there is a strongly felt need for reliable freelance translators, translation agencies and service providers offering a range of language pairs. In particular, Spanish language translation services are in great demand, owing to the large Hispanic population in the U.S.

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