Mistakes to Avoid When Translating Packaging for Retail

As the story goes, shortly after Coca-Cola first entered the market in China, they had to change their brand name since the syllables of the name literally translated to, “Bite the Wax Tadpole” in Chinese. This story raises an important issue. If you are not careful when translating your brand’s packaging for a new market, all sorts of things can potentially go wrong. From embarrassing mistranslations to non-compliance issues, and much more. Here are four common mistakes to avoid when translating packaging material for retail.

1. Translating Literally Instead of Transcreating

When translating brand names or slogans into other languages, many companies simply translate the words literally. Others focus more on conveying the general concept of their name or message. But when they do this, they forget one very important element: marketing.

Let’s take the Coca-Cola example. The name they actually decided on for the Chinese market was a combination of characters that were pronounced similarly to “Coca-Cola,” and translated (approximately) to, “Allowing the mouth to experience joy.” This matches perfectly with English slogans like, “The Joy of Coca-Cola,” and “Enjoy Coca-Cola.” But imagine if they’d just used a generic name or translated “soda” directly. There would be nothing to differentiate Coca-Cola from the many other brands of soda on the store shelves in China.

In the U.S., Coke is iconic because of its strategic branding. The company wanted it to become just as iconic in China. You need to do the same when translating packaging for retail. Wherever your product is being sold, focus on translating not only the product information, but also the actual brand into that language, and for that culture. This is called transcreation. Do some research and brainstorming and make sure that your branding is something that will stick with people and be easily identified by customers in that market, just as it is on the shelves at home.

2. Not Knowing Cultural Differences

Different cultures see and use products in vastly different ways. For instance, in the U.S., a clothes dryer is a fairly common household appliance, found in just about every home or apartment complex. In much of Europe, however, most people dry their clothes outside on a line, and an electric dryer is considered a luxury.

Similar to the transcreation concept.  You need to be aware of how people view your products in every country where you plan to sell. If you are not aware of the cultural differences, you can end up poorly marketing your product and even worse, offending people. Before selling a product in any foreign market, make sure you have a complete understanding of how that product and its packaging will be received.

3. Overlooking Compliance Requirements

Every market has requirements regarding what must be included in product packaging. The U.S. has very specific requirements for displaying nutritional information on food products, which are different from those in Europe, for example. Canadian packaging must include all information in both English and French.

Unfortunately, neglecting these differences can result in costly fines and fees. As well as, the costs of having to redo all of your packagings properly. Be sure to have a checklist for local regulations and requirements. So, you can make sure to include and translate all the necessary information for your packaging.

4. Neglecting To Do Market Research

There’s a simple way to avoid most of these mistakes when translating packages for retail: do market research first. Before introducing your product into a new market, test it out. Survey locals to find out what they think and get a better idea of your target audience. This can help identify how your brand is perceived in that market, avoid cultural mishaps and even receive feedback on labeling requirements.

Testing out a new product before release is standard in any market. However, many people forget this step when launching a product in another country. It’s easy to forget that even though your product and company may be well-established in your home market, they could be completely new to the international market!

Translating packaging for retail is a tricky business and perhaps more than many companies realize. It’s not just about avoiding mistranslations. It’s about understanding the culture and carving out a place for your product. By avoiding the common mistakes for retail product translations, your product can be a success in a new foreign market.

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