March 2017
Lost in Translation

by Jeffrey Spear - President

Jeff Spear

We’ve all experienced poorly written, grammatically incorrect and sometimes laughable menus and signage. Unfortunately, there are a large number of exporters who employ ineffective, poorly structured and inappropriate sales messages on their front-line marketing materials.


Whether the fault of poorly trained translators or a lack of cultural empathy with target audiences, having poorly crafted labels, brochures, signage and other such promotional materials has questionable impact. Considering that first impressions count, I am constantly amazed by the numbers of exporters who fail to understand or appreciate the value of culturally aligned sales messages and/or appropriately crafted positioning statements.

There is no shortage of stories that highlight these shortcomings:
-  Coors used its slogan, "Turn It Loose," in Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer From Diarrhea."
-  Jolly Green Giant, when translated into Arabic, was read as "Intimidating Green Ogre."
-  In Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."
-  American manufacturers of Pet condensed milk introduced their product into French markets without realizing that "pet" in French means "to break wind."

When conducting research for food and beverage manufacturers in Eastern Europe, I came across some interesting applications of English language.
-  describing the coarse textural qualities of feta cheese as “crummy” as opposed to the more appropriate “crumbly.”
-  fruit puree made from peaches described as “mushy fruit.”
-  beet juice stating its formula contained “real blood cells.”

Unfortunately, these statements are merely the tip of the iceberg. Costly marketing programs are, in effect, being sabotaged by sales messages that are so poorly written and so inappropriate that they end up deflecting any prospect of sales. And while it’s easy for us to identify and criticize mistakes in English language marketing programs, there are potentially damaging mistakes being made all over the world in countless other languages.

Cultural alignment requires more than just translation. Form relationships with local marketing firms and innovative copywriters who are native to your target market. They’ll have the capacity to embrace a bit of slang or infuse indigenous themes into your pitch. With the right touch, these references could be just the thing to capture the attention, and heart, of your prospects.

The key to international trade is knowing your audience and speaking directly to them in a familiar tone. When you communicate in a manner that resonates both emotionally and culturally, the impact of your messages is significantly enhanced. Considering how hard it is to achieve marketing effectiveness in your own back yard, taking the time to get your words in order for international audiences is a worthwhile investment.

Studio Spear can help you culturally align your marketing efforts, launch international brands and develop a more robust international marketing program. For more information, contact Jeff Spear by phone: 866 787 8761 or email:


If the time has come to overhaul, update and re-invigorate your brand image, or you'd like to change up your marketing program, please call 904 685 2135 - ask for Jeff Spear. You can also contact Jeff via email:

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