Few things have such an impact and effect on people’s lives as advertising. A professionally written advert seeks to provoke emotions and feelings to capture people’s attention. In the field of translation studies, there is a whole study about the art of transcreation – the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining
its intent, style, tone, and context. This may seem simple at first, but throw in a bit of culture, heritage, and traditions in the mix, then you will see that re-creating an advertisement in another country and language is a challenge. Not only will you need the language skills, but also a deep knowledge of its target audience.
As a concept, transcreation is relatively new, first used in the 60s and 70s in the start of the globalization. In the 80s it gained traction as the videogame and film industry started to adapt their works for the target audience. Good examples of this was changing the money used in movies to the local currency or adapting the backgrounds in videogames to a more familiar view (ex; Times Square when sold in the USA, and Taj Mahal when sold in India).
Through the 90s the advertisement companies caught on to the idea, realizing that their work would be more transmittable if reworked, not just literary translated. Today, transcreation is the main, and preferred, method in the translation industry, and its importance is becoming more and more apparent for international vendors.
We have collected a few, out of many, translation mistakes done in advertising:
When Colgate wanted to introduce a new toothpaste into the French market, they kept the original name “Cue”. A staff member in the marketing department is said to later realise that “Cue” was also the name of a famous French porn magazine.
Braniff International Airways (closed in 1965) used the slogan: “Fly in Leather” to advertise for their new aircraft interior. This was wrongly translated into Spanish as “Vuela en Cueros” translating into “Fly naked”.
The American Dairy Association aired an informative and nutritional campaign to raise awareness about drinking enough milk in 1995. The slogan they used was “Got Milk?”. When the campaign was released in Mexico, the slogan was translated into “Tienes Leche?” Although a correct translation, this is a slang used in Mexico for asking “Are you breastfeeding?”.
When Mercedes-Benz launched in China, they rebranded as “Bensi”. In Chinese though, it means “Rush to die”.
When the catchphrase of the bank HSBC was mistranslated from “Assume Nothing” to “Do Nothing” in various countries in 2009, HSBC had to launch a rebranding campaign costing them more than $10 million.
For more than 50 year, the American fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) used the slogan “It’s Finger-Lickin’ Good”. For English speakers, this meant that the chicken tasted so good you would lick your fingers after eating it. When translated into Mandarin Chinese it read “Eat Your Fingers”. In 2011, KFC changed their slogan to “So Good”, making it easier to translate.
Translating something is not just about looking up a word in a dictionary, it is about transforming the material on hand into something that the final reader/user can connect with. It is an evolving artform, and as a translator you can never stop learning and updating yourself on language and culture.
Even though tools as “Google Translate” is good, and getting better when it comes to translate words and short phrases, a machine will never translate as good as a human. Google has also realised this, now getting feedback from its user about the accuracy of the translation.
Don't hesitate, for your next translation project, being a document or an advertisement campaign, contact Innova Traducción.
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To end, we leave you with a video explaining the difficulties with machine translations.