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How to Avoid Common Marketing Translation Mistakes

New year, new you; well, new marketing campaigns at least. In the last ten years alone, the world of marketing has changed beyond all recognition, so as we step fresh faced into a brand new decade, let’s take a look at some of the top do’s and don’ts of marketing translation. Each and every time you embark on a new marketing strategy, your team has no doubt put in significant effort into market research, figuring out how to resonate with your target demographic. Why let all of this hard work go to waste by making easily avoidable mistakes with your marketing translations?

Quality in Translations: You Get What You Pay For!

It can seem like the easier option to use your in-house team to translate your marketing materials, if they happen to speak another language. However, the aim of marketing translation is to create copy that has the same impact that your original marketing material intended. Recreating not just words but the meaning and feel of a marketing campaign takes more than just linguistic knowledge. It requires cultural and social awareness, language skills and an immense capacity for creativity. Professional translators adapt your material in a way that maintains the integrity of the source text while ensuring it’s both relatable and eye catching for your new market.

Human Translator Knows Best

Similarly, relying on machine translation alone can leave your marketing campaign open to potentially embarrassing marketing blunders in new language regions. Everyone has an amusing story of a translation blunder that a company would rather never have to rectify: When Ford mis-translated ‘Every car has a high quality body’ into “Every car has a high quality corpse’ for the Belgian market. Or, even when Pepsi enticed their Chinese consumers with the promise that Pepsi would bring their dead ancestors back from the grave! Of course, these mistakes can elicit a laugh but in real terms, they represent significant lost revenues and valuable resources for these companies that could have easily been avoided altogether by enlisting the help of professional native speaking translators, who would have spotted such obvious errors immediately.

Share Your Ideas, Not Just Your Source Text

Remember that even the best translator is not a mind reader. In order to fully translate your marketing message into a new language, they must understand what it is you’re trying to say. Consider sharing any tips or ideas that you offered to your original marketing strategy team to your linguistic team, too. These are the people at the front lines of your target language marketing campaign. By giving them the same insight into your marketing goals, you can improve your chances that they can translate (or transcreate) those concepts into your target language in a way that makes sense, both linguistically and culturally.

Be Culturally Aware

It’s not always enough to be a native speaker, by ensuring that your translator has lived in the region in which you are targeting, you can rest assured that they have been immersed in the local cultural and social context enough to understand how these may affect your marketing translation, and take appropriate measures to help you seamlessly integrate into the target market. We often hear the phrase ‘there is no substitute for real-life experience’. This is equally true for effective marketing translation.

Avoid Literal Translation

As any tourist with a smartphone knows, literal translations are rarely accurate. Technologies like Google Translate have advanced greatly over time and can certainly help in situations where we may need to translate some words on a road sign, or while struggling to glean some meaning from a menu in a foreign language. However, if you’ve ever sought the insight of a native speaker as to whether the translations from such sources hold any water, you’d understand the limitations of word-for-word translation. Not only can this method of communicating your message in a new tongue do injustice to the caliber of your original message, in the form of mistakes or unfortunate faux pas, even the most meticulously checked literal translations miss the point of marketing translation: to be as effective a marketing tool in the new language as in the source language. Without some room to breathe, consider the culture, social influences, not to mention sentence structure and syntax of each new language, your marketing translations are likely to come across as limp and devoid of any real attention catching qualities in your target language.

Respect Regional Differences, Even in the Same Language

With so many languages being spoken in more than one region of the world; from French to Spanish to Portuguese and English, it’s worth considering the impact, if any, when attempting to market to one, using the same language text originally intended for another. Just as you wouldn’t expect your Chinese customers to be content being sold to through English, you should always invest in your target market. This important premise extends not only to the most obvious translations, but also to marketing campaigns in one language that will run in different regions. To ignore different dialects or forms of the language would be a mistake; you may not notice much of a difference but it matters to your consumers, who want to feel as though you are marketing directly to them, not at their language counterparts in another part of the world.

For example, in American and British English, consumers in either market will be able to recognize differences between these two dialects. By failing to cater for each specific audience you run the risk of alienating potential customers. An easily recognizable difference would be in date formatting between the two countries: the UK preferring Day/Month/Year while the US uses Month/Day/Year.

Going further than these seemingly obvious differences, though, there are numerous words and phrases that can mean vastly different things “across the pond”: in the US, a ‘homely’ person is considered to be plain or even ugly so would usually be viewed as an offensive, or at the very least. insulting term. Whereas in the UK, this same word is used to convey a sense of comfort, warmth and coziness. A ‘moot point’ in one language is an arguable point and an irrelevant point in the other. Needless to say, many people have a deep emotional attachment to their own native dialect and can feel confused and even indignant to be marketed to in the wrong one. This is not an area to be overlooked.

Focus on Every Region, Individually

Don’t just assume that it is possible to make your language accessible to all who may read it in that language. The phrases ‘mid-atlantic english’ or ‘easy to translate language’ are the enemies of good marketing. The goal of any successful marketing campaign is to get inside the mind of your target audience, understand what makes them tick and sell to them, what they need in a way that makes them want to buy. Watering down your language translations, or worse, writing original copy in a way that puts the focus on later translations rather than the consumers who will read it in the language its written is a marketing translation faux pas that has a negative effect on even the source text. The focus must be on conveying ideas from one culture to the next and not on getting words from one language to another.


Never Skip Editing/Proofreading

Any professional linguist will tell you that a translation is only as good as the final edit. Without functional quality control measures, mistakes can easily be missed by both translator and client. In a highly collaborative team environment, you can be sure that each of your marketing translations are proofread by specialist native translators and edited by post editors if needed before being signed off as final.

By following these tips and investing the same time and effort into your marketing translations as your original marketing efforts, you will allow yourself the peace of mind of knowing that the final product is fit for purpose and will resonate with your new market, just as you intended. After all, marketing translation is about translating your ingenious ideas into a new vernacular, not merely swapping one word for another. At PGLS, we can be an extension of your in-house marketing team, with extensive experience translating, localizing and transcreating marketing material into over 200 languages, our dedicated team of professional linguists and subject matter experts will speak to your target language markets, not just at them.

Call us today to discuss your marketing translation needs, and let us advertise your business the right way!

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