How to avoid the same campaign mistakes that befell P&G, KFC and American Motors

How to avoid the same campaign mistakes that befell P&G, KFC and American Motors

Some years ago, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) achieved great success in the USA with its nappy branding, depicting the image of a stork delivering a baby to convey new beginnings. A success in the states, P&G applied the same visuals when it launched its products in Japan. However, Japan’s own fable about reproduction is of giant, floating peaches travelling down a river, bringing children to

Alan White

expectant parents. The concept of a long-legged bird dropping a newborn from the sky just didn’t make sense.

Spanish motorists failed to understand the reference when American Motors called its new, midsize family car the ‘Matador’ – a term which, in Spain, alludes to ‘killing’ or ‘death’. And before KFC opened its doors in Beijing, China, in the late 1980s, it failed to realise its infamous ‘Finger lickin’ good’ slogan, when translated into Chinese, became ‘Eat your fingers off’.

Brands that aspire to enter new territories but don’t take the time to understand or learn enough about the nuances, colloquialisms and culture of that market, risk the success of their campaigns before they even go live.

Literal translations can be insulting

Launching a campaign that fails to resonate in its visual and written branding can hinder its success. Using literal translations that make no sense are worse; they risk insulting or upsetting an audience. A badly-worded campaign can be the difference between make and break.

If you’re planning to launch your products or services into overseas markets, you need to go beyond translation. You need transcreation. It’s a creative service, falling somewhere between translation and foreign language copywriting.

Transcreators work with brands to understand every element of their native, hero campaign, before assessing the international audience the brand is trying to reach, the tone of voice they want to strike, how they want the audience to engage and the action they want them to take. Then, they apply their knowledge of that destination’s cultural references, heritage, attitudes, dialects and the language which influences them.

At The Translation People, we’ve delivered transcreation for a technology leader which required its social media campaign to be adapted for audiences in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Global fashion search platform Lyst used transcreation to adapt its UK web copy to launch into the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, while a food and drink manufacturer utilised transcreation to develop a series of straplines for its crisp and snack products, after the English copy missed the mark in Holland and Belgium.

Consider transcreating your SEO

Transcreation also comes in useful for SEO campaigns and website translations. For example, the search terms an overseas web user would choose won’t necessarily rank highly in other territories. Transcreation can help brands saturate their target markets with an effective digital presence by helping them understand which foreign keywords will perform best. With 60% of consumers saying they would never buy from an English-only website, these platforms must be multilingual. Any website which doesn’t appeal to a user’s inherent culture and personality could lead to a loss of sale, seeing competitors capitalise on the opportunity.

Getting the most from transcreation requires time, engagement and most of all, patience. An effective way of working is to establish the messaging of the English, hero campaign and once agreed, apply the same amount of resource to the transcreation project. For it to have the same impact overseas as it will in the UK requires an acceptance that someone else knows more about the preferences of your target market than you do.

Transcreation can help turn a UK business into an international success, and it can also ensure the first step on your international journey is less Spanish matador, and more ‘killer’ campaign.