Localizing Slogans: When Language Translation Gets Tricky
A slogan. It seems pretty straightforward. Translating a few words, or even a sentence, shouldn’t be all that complicated, right?
And yet we’ve seen countless examples of when localizing slogans has gone awry—from big global brands—illustrating just how tricky translating slogans can be.
Anybody recall Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” tagline being translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in Chinese?
While humorous, this language translation misfortune can be costly—and not just in a monetary sense. We’re talking time-to-market and brand reputation costs, too.
Why slogans pose language translation difficulties
The very nature of slogans makes them challenging to translate. Many times slogans are very creative, playing on cultural idioms and puns.
There often isn’t a direct translation that can take on the exact meaning of your slogan. And, in fact, linguists may experience translation difficulties in attempting to complete the translation word for word.
Local nuances come into play as well. Some words may have entirely different meanings than your source language and can be misinterpreted. Just think of product names that are often used in slogans. The Chevy Nova name was criticized in Latin America because “Nova” directly translates into “doesn’t go.”
Also, different cultures have unique emotional reactions to given words. Take McDonald’s and its famous slogan “I’m lovin’ it.” The fast food mogul localized this slogan to “Me encanta” or “I really like it,” so the mantra was more culturally appropriate for Spanish-speaking countries, where love is a strong word and only used in certain situations.
Because of the language translation difficulties involved, you may need a more specialized form of translation to ensure that your slogan makes a positive impact in your international markets.
How to approach localizing slogans
First and foremost, communication is vital throughout the entire localization process. When approaching slogans, we’ll collaborate with your marketing experts—whether internal or outside creative agencies—as well as your in-country linguists with marketing expertise.
Having in-country linguists’ work on your slogan is absolutely critical. These language translation experts are fully immersed in the target culture. They are cognizant of cultural nuances, slang and idioms, which ensures that your slogan will make sense—and go over well—in your target locales.
We’ll review the concepts in the tagline or slogan as a team and identify any challenging words or phrases and assess how to approach it. Oftentimes, a direct translation won’t work. We may need to localize it in a way that’s more appropriate, such as the McDonald’s “Me encanta” example above.
If it poses much difficulty, then we may need to turn to transcreation services.
Transcreation process and your slogan
The transcreation process is a specialized version of language translation that’s a highly involved and creative process.
Copywriter linguists will identify your brand qualities and portray those in a way that perfectly resonates with your target audience. Think of it as a mix of “translation” and “creation.” It’s not a word-for-word translation, but rather re-creating an idea or message so it fosters an emotional connection in a different culture.
Looking at a quick example, Nike’s celebrated slogan “Just do it” had no meaningful translation in Chinese. So instead, the message was transcreated to mean “Use sports” or “Have sport,” which had a more prominent impact in that culture.
Localizing slogans, or more specifically, your slogan, correctly can mean a stronger global brand reputation—driving revenue and increased market share worldwide. Taking a hasty, nonchalant approach can mean just the opposite. And you may find yourself having to spend time and resources rectifying what comes with a language translation error.