International PR Tip No. 3: Watch your language

Not surprisingly, language is one of the most common sources for mishaps in international communication. Examples for brandings that failed in foreign markets due to ignorance of local language associations are legend.
– The Mitsubishi Pajero did not sell too well in Hispanic markets, since pajero, in Spanish, means “wanker”
– Similarly, the Lada Nova didn’t make many miles in those markets, as “no va” means “doesn’t work”
– Swedish appliance maker Electrolux, famously, in the seventies ran an ad campaign in the US dubbed “Nothing Sucks Like an Electrolux”
– Scientific surveys, ever and again, show that in Germany, a majority of consumers completely misunderstand English slogans (for example, many Germans interpret perfumery chain Douglas’ slogan, “Come In and Find Out”, as “Get Into the Store, And Try To Find Your Way Out Again”)

What to do, then? Well, first of all remember that local audiences – still – primarily use local media in local languages. If you absolutely have to use an English term all over the place (like in social media with global reach), make sure it does not have any irritating connotations in the local markets you’re targeting.

When going for local language translations, it is mandatory to involve a native speaker always. Especially in media relations, even a native speaker in a translation agency might not be good enough, since these people often just do a word-by-word translation (fair enough – that’s their job), but journalistic writing is quite a different matter, which at times will call for a different flow or even completely rearranging style and order of a text. Same goes, unfortunately, for headlines: Many phrases that sound terrific in English hardly make any sense when trying to translate them into a more ‘precise’ language such as German. There’s nothing wrong with that – since (remember), at the end of the day what you want to achieve is a messaging that is consistent, not identical in different markets.

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