Localization of consumer goods entails far more than simply translation. It requires, above all else, a cultural understanding of the practices and norms of the country into which you are localizing. A famous historical example would be JFK’s memorable Berlin speech where he began by stating “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which didn’t announce him as a native of the city as he intended, but rather as a brand of popular German doughnuts. If you’re still unsure about the importance of localization, take a look at some real-world localization blunders below.
Arguably the world’s greatest food stuff, fried chicken isn’t something many would suspect even needed localizing; it’s a product that sells itself (like iPhones and water). However, KFC as a brand decided to enter the Chinese market by translating their famous slogan “Finger lickin’ good!” into Chinese, which came out as “Eat your fingers off.” Despite this marketing hiccup, KFC still grew to become the most popular foreign food outlet in China, and with no concurrent rise in the number of missing fingers, we’ll count that as a plus.
When releasing their car the Pinto in Brazil, Ford apparently presumed that they didn’t need to localize the name. After all, it has a vaguely “Spanish-sounding” ring to it, and Brazilians speak Spanish, right? Wrong. While pinto can have a number of different meanings in Spanish (the verb “to paint,” for example), in Portuguese – the language spoken in Brazil – pinto is a slang word for “tiny male genitalia.” After sales for the Pinto (ahem) flopped, Ford changed the car’s name to Corcel (horse). In the west, the meaning of pinto has become more associated with men who drive big cars in general.
“Two nations divided by a common language” was how George Bernard Shaw (or possibly Oscar Wilde – history isn’t clear) described the relationship between Britain and the USA. Accordingly, this example goes some way towards showing how localization can be a tricky procedure even when occurring between (what we in the localization industry would call) EN (UK) and EN (US). The vacuum cleaner manufacturer Electrolux had a big hit with their British advertising campaign “Nothing sucks like Electrolux.” However, when transferred across the pond, the meaning changed from a simple, rhyming slogan into a declaration of inferior quality. In America, “sucks” is a slang term applied to something awful or useless, while in the original market, the slogan doesn’t have any negative connotations.
As one of America’s leading suppliers of chicken, Perdue Farms’ CEO Frank Perdue was one of the first CEOs to appear in advertisements promoting products. Perdue’s famous slogan was “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” which commonly featured on advertising billboards with an accompanying photo of Frank Perdue himself clutching a rooster. This odd slogan sounds funny enough in English, but when translated into Spanish, it came out as “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused.” Whoops.
Make sure issues like declaring one’s self a pastry, personal cannibalism, Freudian genital attacks, announcing the inadequacy of your products, or licentious poultry never derail your business expansion. Before you step into unknown territory, remember: localize!
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