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When you approach the global marketplace with views inherent to any Country’s culture, you may find that your business practices are not acceptable in some foreign countries. Cultural adaptation in the way you do business is essential for companies operating in foreign markets with cultures different from that of the particular country you approached. Such adaptation efforts must take place in all major areas of company activity for them to be effective.

Even during my relatively short time working for a translation agency, the service of marketing translation has been pushed further into prominence due to the never-ending evolution marketing itself. We all see it becoming increasingly widespread, diverse and multilingual thanks to the combined drive of globalization, technology, the revolutionary ideas from within the marketing industry itself, and the demand of a hungry consumer market that by the generation becomes ever more impressionable. A lot of companies and brands we work with aren’t just interested in selling a product or a service anymore; they’re interested in promoting or even creating a whole lifestyle to which what they produce is integral.

The key to executing this strategy internationally is preserving the original message and sentiments of a campaign whilst adapting it to the tastes of a foreign market. Using native speaking translators who are on the same level culturally as well as linguistically as the target market is thus essential. It is they who can inject into overseas marketing a more natural, almost at times subtle approach favored increasingly by many of our clients, who are aware of how easy it is to unintentionally offend an entire nation/religion/culture with just the slightest hitch in translation!

Language is an obvious but often misunderstood part of a country’s culture. When companies simply translate their adverts, promotions and product instructions, they may miss subtle cultural influences. Instead of a translation, you need to take the meaning of what the English are saying and come up with local equivalents, preferably with the involvement of local personnel. For example, “new” is a positive characteristic in the U.S., but it may not have such a positive connotation in traditionalist cultures. (Bert Markgraf).

This, of course, leads us to see just how important translation is to marketing by looking at the times where it’s gone frightfully wrong. Translations between Japanese and European languages – particularly English – are prime examples, because of the gulf in both languages and cultures between Japan and the western world that has set many a marketing campaign from both directions of course! Thankfully I can tell you that my agency BDS Translation was not responsible for any of the following five amusing instances:

Salem Cigarettes seemingly simple and straightforward slogan “Salem – Feeling Free,” got translated in Japan as “When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.” Quite an intriguing marketing pitch, all the same!

One Tokyo hotel perhaps didn’t mean to be so brutally honest in an advert stating: “Our staffs are always here waiting for you to patronize them.”

What could possibly go wrong with a friendly character like Woody Woodpecker spearheading a campaign by Matsushita and Panasonic to launch a new PC and Internet browser in Japan? Quite a lot, as an American employee pointed out when the slogan that goes with it translates as “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.”

There are countless examples of names of models for Japanese cars being plucked from thin air, with the single word settled upon often infringing on foreign slang. What we now know as the Honda Jazz or Fit was originally named ‘Fitta’, before some bright spark pointed out that this is a crude term for female genitalia in some Nordic countries!

Misleading cultural attitudes can sometimes be the sole issue in a translation. No one really bats an eyelid over the name of ‘Pocari Sweat’ in Japan, but the reference to bodily fluid caught the American public by surprise when the drink first hit the U.S. market. Still, the sales remain solid across the Pacific!

While consumers in different cultures may have a need for your product, your presentation must conform to local practices. Packaging and instructions need to take into account the culture of the country where you are marketing the product. Colors and shapes may mean different things in the local culture, and the instructions have to be applicable to places where materials and tools common in the U.S. may be scarce. Become familiar with local conditions before adopting your product presentation.

Andrew is a social media manager for BDS Translation. More can be found on http://www.bdstranslation.com/

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