Stories that Prove the Importance of Translation and Localization

LocalizationIf you have come to the conclusion that expanding into international markets is the best way to increase revenues and drive business growth, you likely realize that there are several fundamental components of a successful global launch of your products. One of the most challenging of these components regards translation and localization of your product and marketing materials.

Understanding Translation and Localization

It is troublingly easy to make the mistake of thinking that translation alone will ensure that your international audience understands the intent behind your marketing message. That assumption, however, can be deadly to your international strategy.

Why is that the case? The Content Wrangler’s “Should Marketing Content Be Translated or Localized?” explains:

“Many businesses fail to understand the difference between the two processes used to “translate” content – translation and localization. Both entail different means and resources; and both yield different results.”

Translation addresses linguistic differences. However, perhaps much more important for the purpose of actually positioning your product for success in foreign markets is localization, which addresses cultural differences.

The importance of understanding and accommodating the culture of your target markets cannot be overstated. For instance, how likely is it that a chain of hamburger restaurants or a manufacturer of leather goods would do well in India, where cows are considered as sacred? What about pork products in a largely Muslim country, or contraceptive devices aimed at a country with a predominantly Catholic audience?

While these are obvious examples of products that would be unsuited for certain cultures, the reality is that there are many examples of surprising missteps by companies that expanded into global markets without using adequate localization techniques.

What’s In a Name? Examples of Brand Names Gone Horribly Wrong in International Markets

Even a brand name can lead you into hot water internationally. The article “Funny but Costly Localization Mistakes” lists some brand names that had trouble taking off in foreign markets. Here are a few examples:

  • Vicks Cough Drops had to change its brand name to “Wicks” in Germany because the name “Vicks”, when pronounced in German is perilously close to a vulgar term for sexual penetration.
  • The Ford Probe was a flop in Germany as well, since the translation of the word “Probe” was test or rehearsal. As it turns out, Germans had no interest in buying “test” cars.
  • IKEA’s Fartfull desk was not a big hit in the U.S. While in Swedish the words means “speedy”, in English the connotation is not so pleasant.
  • Clairol’s Mist Stick curling iron played well in the U.S. However, in Germany “mist” means manure, not exactly the stuff German women want in their hair.

Well-Known Slogans that Went South

While brand names can be somewhat problematic, marketing slogans and advertising copy that has not gone through rigorous localization can seriously damage a company’s reputation in a foreign market, thoroughly defeating the purpose of expansion in the first place.’s “Lost in Translation: 8 International Marketing Fails” provides a few more examples of marketing gone horribly wrong for lack of proper localization:

For instance, there is the oft-repeated example of KFC. In the U.S., KFC’s slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” is highly recognizable and easily understood. However, when KFC expanded into China, the slogan fell disastrously short, being translated as “Eat Your Fingers Off”.

HSBC Bank suffered a similar fate. Its slogan “Assume Nothing” played poorly in overseas markets, where it was translated as “Do Nothing”, not exactly a rousing endorsement for the company. At a cost of around $10 million, the bank salvaged its international advertising with the more localization-friendly “The World’s Private Bank.”

The use of slang in a Coors campaign caused some unintended consequences as well. In the U.S., the Coors slogan “Turn it loose” conjures up thoughts of having a good time. In Spain, the expression translates to “Suffer from diarrhea”, not quite what the Coors advertising team wanted to project.

Swedish manufacturer Electrolux fell on the wrong side of slang as well. Its tagline “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” was catchy, but failed to impress U.S. shoppers for obvious reasons.

Perdue Chicken had similar problems with its tagline “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” Spanish audiences failed to see the humor when the tagline was translated as “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused.”

Cultural Context Difficulties

Not every localization problem arises from language differences, however. Proper localization of marketing materials involves a deep cultural understanding as well. Images used in marketing materials can also be off-putting to international audiences.

For instance, Pampers ran into some issues when marketing its products in Japan. Using a stork on its packaging made perfect sense in America, but Japanese folklore does not contain any references to storks delivering babies. Thus, the stork had Japanese parents scratching their heads in confusion.

Another example is one pharmaceutical company that expanded into the United Arab Emirates. Since Arabic is written from right to left, the company changed the text of their marketing materials to reflect the new orientation. However, it failed to change the images that went with the text. The result? The “Before” picture became confused with the “After” picture, leading Arab consumers to believe that the drug in question would lead them from a state of good health to bad health.

Examples of Good Localization Strategies

Not all localization efforts turn into epic fails, however. Done right, localization boosts the chances of success for your company on an international playing field. Find out more about Dynamic Language localization and transcreation services.

For instance, Apple had a successful series of ads in the U.S. that featured a cool, laid-back young man representing the Mac and a plodding, nerdy-looking actor representing the PC. Though this ad series was wildly popular in the U.S., Apple wisely understood that it would not play well in Japan, where directly criticizing one’s competitors is viewed as low class. Taking into account this cultural difference, Apple adjusted its ad campaigns in Japan accordingly.

Another good example of localization comes from KFC. After its earlier slogan debacle, KFC regained its footing in China by taking into account the cultural and literal tastes of its Chinese patrons. KFC added traditional Chinese breakfast breads, Chinese porridge, and side dishes featuring rice with Chinese spices to pair with its fried chicken, making Chinese consumers comfortable by offering culturally familiar choices.

Working with a Translation and Localization Partner

Translation is hard, but localization is harder. Having a strong and deep understanding of the cultures that will be exposed to your brand through international expansion is a key ingredient to your success in foreign markets.


Include a partnership with a language service agency in your plans for global expansion.

Working with an agency that provides business translation services, website translation services, and localization services is a good way to ensure that your marketing message will be understood and appreciated by international audiences.

Dynamic Language is an ISO-9001 certified language service provider with over 30 years of experience in the translation and localization industry. Contact us today to discuss your plans for global expansion.