So you have a great product, an amazing campaign idea and a powerful strapline and message to communicate to your audience. But now you want to expand globally and need to translate the message for your overseas customers. Easy right? Surely it’s just translating from your original content into the new target languages? Well, you could, but before you do have you considered the consequences. In this blog, we take a look at the pitfalls of a basic word for word translation versus the power of transcreation.

Parker Pen Pregnancy Problems

Global stationary giants Parker Pen, were marketing their product to a new Mexican market. Their English language tagline ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ although a little twee, had driven success in the US and UK respectively. But the expansion plan for Mexico required translation and the guys at Parker employed a linguist service that didn’t specialize in the language or subject matter. The result translated from English to Spanish, then back; ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.’ A side effect I don’t think anyone purchasing a pen would expect!

So how did it go so wrong?

When looking to translate, Parker didn’t research their supplier. They employed a translation agency who failed to pick up on what is known as a ‘false friend’ in the original strapline. Embarrass is structured and sounds very much like the Spanish word ’embarazar’ which, while similar, actually means ‘to put one in the oven’ or ‘to impregnate’. Their rushed approach to the launch of the campaign proved costly and embarrassing, can you spot the irony from their original strapline?

Had Parker Pen consulted with an agency that reviewed the creative alternatives to the original campaign slogan, followed by comprehensive quality analysis, they would have seen very different results. The power of using transcreation would definitely have saved them a few dollars, and blushes.

But they are not the only household name who have been guilty of this language laziness.

Slogan Slip Up

HSBC have marketed themselves as a bank for the people for decades. However, when they decided to translate their slogan ‘Assume Nothing’, which for a bank, is a pretty weak strapline, even in English, their literal approach to the translation caused them no end of financial problems. The literal interpretation in a number of languages was ‘Do Nothing’, which as a business handling millions of peoples finances, was not how they wanted to be perceived, although may be a more accurate representation of how banking actually works. The cost; $10 million to amend across the business. They eventually changed their slogan to ‘The World’s Private Bank’ which, when translated properly across their global branches, proved more successful.

What could they have done differently?

English is a complex and awkward language to translate sometimes. There are words that are spelled the same, which have multiple meanings. Words that sound the same but spelled differently. Phonetics mean nothing as the pronunciation of certain words are unrecognizable in comparison to their written form. I could go on. The word ‘assume’ is a homonym, so is a confusing inclusion in this instance. The translators ‘assumed’ the ‘assume’ meant ‘to take or adopt or to do’, therefore they translated the phrase to ‘Do Nothing’ as the most logical option as ‘Adopt Nothing’ or ‘Take Nothing’ for a bank would have been equally, if not more ridiculous. Overall, the exercise was managed badly and had HSBC factored in a transcreation option to their project, they could have been $10 million better off today.

To summarize, literal translation won’t always get the best results when communicating a campaign message. The power of transcreation means you can still effectively communicate your original intent, whilst adapting the message suitably for your audience. At Jonckers, we believe in the power of transcreation, do you?