Marketing Translation: Don’t Drink the Sweat

By Dina Paglia, Acclaro Inc.

It is doubtful that the makesrs of the popular Japanese sport drink Pocari Sweat ever meant for their product to go completely global. What native English speaker would relish consuming a drink labeled “sweat”?

Launching a marketing campaign in a new language market can be tricky. What colors, images or turns of phrase are enticing and which are insulting? Without a keen cultural eye, even the best-planned campaign can falter.

Below are 10 tips for taking your marketing messages across borders:

1. Prioritize. Who says that you have to translate your entire website, every advertisement, every tagline? One of the best ways to get the most out of your budget is to limit the word count.

Approach content differently and focus on quality, not quantity. For example, if you have a blog, don’t translate each post in real-time; select the ones that are the most relevant to that market.

2. Target your audience. Your global strategy and campaign objectives, as well as budget, will drive the language and dialect selection. Are you trying to break into a competitive Peruvian market? You’ll need a regionally specific Spanish translation. Or are you simply trying to keep up with the competition in all Spanish-speaking countries? You may consider a “global” Spanish translation.

Careful, though: global versions may save you time and money up front, but are often too neutral to be effective.

3. Watch the metaphors. The source text should be reviewed for images, phrases, and concepts that might not work in all countries. For instance, “hit it out of the ballpark” won’t make sense to someone in a country where soccer (a.k.a. “football” in countries such as England and Ireland) is the primary sport.

Having this feedback before translation begins can help you decide whether to have consistency across markets by changing the original or to use different images and metaphors that are most effective in the target languages.

4. Be involved. Give your translation provider a local style guide to help them understand the objective of the text, the target audience and the preferred style. Review a sample of the translation early in the process to make sure your translation provider is on the right track. Set up a review team — ideally one reviewer for each language — and engage them from the beginning of the project.

5. Allow for extra time. Don’t expect the same timeline or costs as when translating technical or general business documents. Language is subjective, and stylistic marketing language is even more so. Expect a lot of feedback. Headlines, taglines and copy will require extra attention and multiple revisions to get the translations to reflect the desired message.

6. Let go of your slogan. While it’s very enticing to have the same slogan across all markets, taglines are extremely challenging and time consuming to localize and may need to change slightly or significantly in the target language.

Global slogans are very rare: McDonald’s didn’t create their first global slogan “I’m Lovin’ It” until 2003, and it was kept in English for most countries.

7. Use universal symbols. Many countries (especially in Europe) have standard and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) approved symbols to convey a message without having to translate it. For example, the recycle, shelf life and ironing symbols can be used throughout the European Union ,thereby saving a lot of space and also complying with local regulations.

But be careful that they really are universal. The American hand symbol for “okay,” for example, signifies something is “zero” or “worthless” in France — and in Turkey, it’s downright offensive.

8. Be aware of space limitations. Languages don’t adhere to silly things like character count. A banner ad translated from English to Japanese will likely leave plenty of white space, while the German translation may completely overflow the space. Allow extra time for adjustments, or consider localization during the initial design and leave adequate room for the target languages.

9. Use humans, please. If there’s one takeaway, it’s to have a global creative process where people are the primary driver of the translation. There’s been a lot of hype about machine translation, but there’s just no comparison when it comes to expressing ad messages. In any case, a literal translation would have to be reviewed by an editor for accuracy and then re-done for phonetic value and flow.

10. There’s no such thing as too much cultural sensitivity. Do not underestimate how much people want to be spoken to — not only in their own language, but also in their own lifestyles, habits, and value systems. To have the biggest impact, take a comprehensive, holistic approach to translation.

This article was written by Dina Paglia of Acclaro and was originally published in February 2010 in Adotas, a web-based publication for professionals in interactive marketing and advertising.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jake on March 14, 2011 at 13:03

    There is absolute no necessity of translating your site to specific language just inorder to target those audience. From an usability perspective analyse your site and check which are the main landing and have these pages translated to the specific langyuage to which you are willing to target. Get this translation done by freelance translators or translation companies… both effectively will come out the same. As said, always be involved with the ones whos are translating the pages, as its important that you dont lose the essence of the page while converting it to specific language. This will bring down the usability of the site to a very great extent


    • Hi Jake, I half agree with you, but if you want to look professional I think your whole site should be translated if you decide to tranlate it. My belief is that if you want to do something you should do it properly. It would be strange to look through a website that is supposed to be bilingual only to find that the page you really want to read has not been translated. It frustrates me most of the time when this happens to me…

      Also when you send a translation to an agency for example AIM Consulting or in your instance Rosetta, you will receive a 100% accurate, edited, proofread and quality checked translation that has gone through a process where 3-4 different translation experts have gone over the document. A freelance translation at most is just a draft version of the translation. So it is always safer to go directly to an agency rather than a freelancer if you want a high quality translation. A lot of the time the prices are the same but the quality most of the time is definitely not the same.


  2. Posted by Jake on March 17, 2011 at 10:46

    Hi Aim, If you want a certain page to be translated to the language of your choice, which can be done very easily with help of any browser . All have the language translate bar associated with it(mostly IE , chrome and mozilla). It order to maintain the sites in all the languages is quite a tedious task … and this is my word as developer of sites for the past 6 years. Today there are various CMS that provide you with an option of having pages designed in required languages …


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