If you are a growing company successful enough to start reaching out to foreign markets, the very last thing you want is to introduce yourself with a mistake. One of the biggest challenges for a globalizing business is to face the challenges of new languages and cultures. You’ve inevitably spent a long time tailoring your brand and marketing campaigns to the tastes of your home audience and it’s only natural to worry about how these English-centered messages will carry over into a new environment.

Should you translate directly and hope for the best or invest the money into completely redesigning your marketing infrastructure? These are important questions, and ones that only a true native translator with in-depth knowledge about your new target market can help you with. Some marketing campaigns will be perfect almost directly translated as long as the words are right while others will, in fact, need a complete re-work for a different audience.

Historic Translation Mistakes

It’s all too easy to think that you’ve made a successful translation only to discover later that you have said something silly, nonsensical, or that somehow misses the mark with your new audience. There are dozens of amusing examples of classic corporate translation mistakes, like how an airline’s ad “Fly in Leather” translated accidentally to “Fly Naked” or Mercedes-Benz registered in China as “Bensi” which translates to “rush to die”. However, a personal favorite and excellent example of why you want to watch out for half-wrong mistranslations is the KFC introduction to their incredibly welcoming Chinese market back in the 80s.

Complete vs Partial Translation – The KFC Example

KFCs are incredibly popular in China, but that doesn’t mean that the chicken franchise successfully transported their marketing campaign initially. In fact, one of the funniest translation mistakes in history occurred as KFC was opening their first location in mainland China. Their classic motto “Finger Lickin’ Good” was mistranslated into a kanji-phrase that read “Eat Your Fingers Off”. This mistake stands out quite poignantly because it’s clear that they had a translator, just not a native speaker who understood the context of the kanji they strung together. When the mistake was pointed out to KFC, they quickly made the needed corrections, but as you can see, it’s all too easy for even a well managed and well-meaning company to mismanage their translation efforts.

Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article where we’ll talk about understanding your new market and navigating the cultural translation. For more interesting tips about professional translation services, contact us today!