26 Aug Optimize Digital Marketing With Transcreation
For fick’s sake! Most quality marketing cannot be run through a word-for-word translator and then tidily repackaged in a new language.
It can be tempting to unveil a snazzy campaign to the whole planet with the touch of a button, but advances in internet marketing and social media have not voided long-standing cultural taboos and linguistic no-nos. It’s important for brands to carefully consider how their content will come across in a new language and culture — skip this step and the results can be costly, embarrassing, and even reputation-shattering. Transcreation is the process of examining marketing from its very core, testing it for efficacy, appropriateness, and fluidity before reimagining it for a foreign market.
Let’s review a few well-intentioned brands that simply translated their content and consequently missed the mark with their global messaging. We’ll learn from their mistakes, and discuss how they could have benefited from a transcreation process instead.
Nike and then NBA rookie LeBron James were aiming to make a big splash in China with their broadcast TV ad Chamber of Fears. Nike intended to replicate Hong Kong’s popular Kung Fu movies of the 1970’s and inspire Chinese youth to face their fears on the basketball court. The ad featured LeBron, who sported Nike kicks, dominating powerful dragons, ancient warriors, and a Kung Fu master on the court. The ad was deeply offensive to most people in China. It undermined national dignity and disrespected traditional culture and common interests. Nike quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology to the country.
This embarrassment could have been prevented, had Nike’s team understood its campaign within its target-market’s context. As part of a transcreation process, in-country marketing teams review campaigns in depth to determine their cultural appropriateness. A good transcreation team identifies potential red flags in content before a campaign is released and re-imagines any taboos or improprieties from the start.
Brand and product names are tricky, too. It’s widely acceptable to leave such words in their native language, but only after a transcreation team verifies that such names are not offensive or abnormal when used in a foreign market. Vicks ran into trouble by failing to adapt its brand name for the German market. The company began selling their cough drops under their English name not realizing that “v” is pronounced “f” in German. The transcreation process would have quickly identified a glaring issue here: Vicks’ brand name was, when spoken aloud in German, a four-letter curse word. Vicks quickly changed its brand name in Germany to Wicks.
Some companies attempt to literally translate taglines for new markets, but such attempts often fall short. For taglines that contain idioms or nuances that don’t easily translate, it’s important to transcreate the copy into other languages. This way, words and messages can be adapted to ensure the tone and style match with the original, but are still relevant and effective in the target market. It’s tempting to cut corners, but it’s usually not worth the risk.
When Perdue Chicken expanded in Latin America, the company chose to translate word-for-word its U.S. billboards for its Spanish-speaking, Mexican audience. Perdue’s famous tagline–“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”–was literally translated in Spanish to “It takes a hard man to make a chicken affectionate.”
These missteps–some humorous, some offensive–were both costly and embarrassing for expanding companies and their marketing teams. Through transcreation, campaigns are reworked into fluid, effective, and appropriate concepts that are well-received in local markets. We can all learn from those that came before us to ensure our global messaging is relevant, impactful and successful.