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By Mark Alford
If a brand wants volume and cheap, use translators or even a machine tool. To truly speak in the market language engage a specialist transcreation agency.
People are so connected socially that if you insult one, you have – within minutes – insulted an entire nation
Wikipedia sums up Brand Language as the body of words, phrases, and terms that an organization uses to describe its purpose or in reference to its products. We at Managed Language think it goes a lot further than that.
One of the most common marketing mistakes businesses make when taking their branding international is not understanding their market and audience.
Conveying your marketing message to an international audience is not as simple as inputting your message into Google Translate and sending it off to consumers. You must understand your audience and the nuances of their language.
It may seem obvious but there can be a cultural gap from one country to the next where campaigns, slogans and initiatives don’t resonate or make sense to the end user. Companies can avoid basic marketing mistakes, like slogans that don’t translate appropriately, by putting in the due diligence to research and understand the new market.
The first question any brand should consider – and certainly not the last – should be about the target market language so they can decide how they talk about the brand in that realm, in that language market.
Brands need to decide how they are going to manage and maintain their brand language whilst sustaining tonality and resonance from the moment they decide to focus on that geographic and language demographic. This is a very different proposition than purely translating a sentence of copy into one language from another. Then as they consider this departure, the creative execution has to be factored into this move for the brand to be accepted (and loved) in that chosen market.
Without the proper considerations, marketing to a foreign audience can have disastrous outcomes. Sending the wrong message can not only discourage consumers from buying your product, but could lead them to boycott your business altogether.
Too often a brand will task their language partners to make creative copy work with the creative approach of “one fits all”. The reality is, each and every execution should be target market specific. Image, colour, copy should all be culturally checked and locally approved.
Most are genuine mistakes in translation that don’t significantly damage a brand, it just looks a little inept.
KFC got off on the wrong foot when it opened in China in the late 1980s. When the company opened its doors in Beijing, the restaurant accidentally translated its famous slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” to “Eat your fingers off.” Not the most auspicious launch but KFC is now one of the top fast-food restaurants in China today, with more than 5,000 restaurants.
But the lack of attention to the nuances of meaning rather than straight translation can be expensive.
A leading financial institution was forced to spend $10million rebranding after an international campaign that used the tagline “Assume nothing” translated in many countries to “Do nothing”
Whilst embarrassing and potentially expensive in terms of marketing expenditure, some mistakes can also potentially impact on sales if consumers feel the brand message makes no sense at all. And you know it’s bad when a corporate blunder becomes a case study in business schools.
When Procter and Gamble tried to crack Japan’s notoriously difficult market and sell Pampers disposable diapers the company used the image of a cartoon stork delivering disposable diapers. This image had been used widely in advertising to western cultures.
However, Japanese parents were stumped by the strange sight of a stork delivering diapers. Peaches, not storks, bring the babies in Japan! The stork mistake was discovered when P&G conducted market research into why sales were slumping. Years later and with a lot of skilled in-market branding, Pampers became market leader.
Customization is key, especially when considering language, culture, visuals, gestures and trends. Everything should be customized to the market your brand is introduced in, learn as much about the destination of your brand as possible. A simple yet crucial marketing tactic is to localize your content instead of simply translation of the language.
But the cultural misjudgement of some campaigns can run much deeper and may well be very offensive to the target audience, impacting directly on revenues and market share. Anti-brand sentiments can spread virally within days and last years, if not permanently, in that country or region.
The iconic Italian brand Dolce & Gabbana has found it difficult to overcome a backlash that erupted in November 2018 over a controversial marketing video. As part of the campaign the company shared a series of ads on social media in which a Chinese woman attempted to eat Italian food with chopsticks while a male voice gave her directions. The ad was denounced, and Chinese consumers, one of Dolce & Gabbana’s largest markets, threatened to boycott the brand entirely.
To get a scale of the potential damage, consider the numbers.
The Italian label was forced to cancel its marquee fashion show in Shanghai in November 2018 as high-profile celebrities and models withdrew amid a spiralling backlash against the advertising campaign that was decried as racist on social media. Dolce & Gabbana had reportedly spent RMB200m (£22.5m) on the show. Key Chinese e-commerce sites allegedly pulled D&G products.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Greater China accounted for a third of all global luxury sales. Dolce & Gabbana’s overall revenues in the year ended March 2019 were 1.38 billion euros ($1.54 billion) with the Asia-Pacific market thought to be about 25% of total turnover.
Dolce & Gabbana had possibly underestimated the power of the Chinese social mind-set. Chinese people are so connected socially that if you insult one, you have – within minutes – insulted an entire nation. It takes years to win the trust of Chinese consumers and apparently only minutes to lose it again.
As a translation agency, we test, test and test again in-market, and listen to the feedback.
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The brand may export but not necessarily the messaging
Whilst working in Cairo for a client I saw first-hand how important cultural review is. A leading UK supermarket brand had purchased a small convenience chain from the Egyptian government and set about rebranding existing stores and opening new ones. From the outset, they were on the wrong foot; they set about marketing as if they were in the UK. The acquisition did not go well and the supermarket brand lost a small fortune, eventually selling the stores back to the government. Put simply, they never understood that market, its language and its culture.
Translation Rules to follow:
More recently, we were engaged with The Body Shop, who asked us a simple question: will this POS work in all target markets?
We sent our linguists out with a phone, the POS and tasked them with one simple job: go to the local Body Shop store take a picture and ask the staff: will this POS work? The feedback was definitive and clear: NO! The Body Shop changed the campaign and ran individual POS creative for each market where feedback dictated a change.
Every brand should pay attention to and across the entire omni channel landscape. As a brand, how your customers hear your brand massage is how they see your brand. If you have a disruptive brand like Apple, be noisy, brash and confrontational, if you have a reliable and trusted brand like Ford, be respectful, traditional and go quietly about the business of selling your products.
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About the author
Mark Alford leads a team at Managed Language that are experts in Translation and Brand Language. They specialise in cultural review and sense checking of any offer in any media for market acceptance and readiness across the world. They can be reached at 0203 858 9677 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Producers & Procurers iQ or imply endorsement from the publisher