Avoiding Poor Sales due to Flawed Label Translation

Avoiding Poor Sales due to Flawed Label Translation
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As global sales opportunities continue to increase, in part due to the growing trend of emerging markets, companies continue to benefit from investing in international advertising and product exports. As well as adhering to packaging quality control regulations, which are often not clearly defined in developing countries; companies have to pay attention when adapting their offerings to the cultural and social customs of their international customers, as well as language use and verbal expressions. This is an extremely important factor when it comes to both branding and label translation.

Famous brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Milka, and The American Dairy Association have all learned about this the hard way. Due to an inadequate translation process and careless research, these companies have all suffered huge product recalls and sales losses at some point in their localisation history.

So, new brands hitting the global market should learn from the lessons the big guys taught us, instead of trying to promote and sell brands and products as you would within a domestic market, it is imperative to understand the cultural differences between countries that tend to prevent this from being a successful strategy.

Brand Transcreation for Emerging Markets

Emerging markets have demonstrated a continuous market growth pattern for over 7 years, thus they are a good opportunity for companies hoping to hit an international market. The trend of EMDE growth (Emerging Markets and Developing Economies) continues and is expected to reach a high of 5% by 2018, as opposed to U.S. growth of 3%. India will maintain its growth rate of 7% according to predictions, which is twice the percentage of most advanced economies.

An important fact to remember is that in most of these emerging markets, English is a second language. In fact, much of the population in these countries, particularly the older generation, don’t speak English at all.

This is where brand transcreation comes in, brands must adapt their advertising approach when entering international markets. Text translations and the use of linguistic expressions on the packaging, labels, and all other branded marketing materials must be thoroughly researched and verified to ensure they resonate with the target region.

Brand Proposition and Identity

Big name brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola have spent millions building awareness and the loyalty of global customers. These brands and others like them have learned the best way of doing this, often through trial and error. Companies need to consider whether or not the value their product offers is actually interesting to the international target demographic. Along with that, the way this value is represented can require adaptation to suit the specific country being targeted.

First and foremost, key elements of transcreation include the translation of brand names, slogans, taglines, key content and regulatory information. Additionally, colours, symbols, signs, numbers, cultural customs, social norms, taboo topics, images and other visuals must also be considered to avoid potential culture shock.

In some cases, companies may even benefit from changing their logo to avoid risking poor sales or even a complete market entry failure.

Avoiding Bad Label Translation

Chinese translation bloopers are definitely some of the most prolific and humorous examples in this field. The web is full of the now very familiar and often innocuous “engrish” hiccups. But don’t be mistaken, embarrassing translation errors have happened to big brands as well.

The Legend of the Pepsi Slogan in China

Pepsi is known for a legendary translation mistake where they sought to localise a slogan into Chinese. Instead of “Pepsi brings you back to life”, the slogan was misinterpreted by certain cultural groups in China. Apparently, to them, this sounded something like “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”.

Although this legend is often recalled in lists of famous translation failures, the precise details have never been verified. Still, there’s an important lesson to learn from this; cultural customs must be taken into account when entering a foreign market.

Key takeaway? Never rely on literal translations for public facing information. Instead, employ skilled native linguists and advanced quality management and proofreading software in your workflow to avoid errors.

Milka ingredients label error

Another, more recent, label translation error occurred in the middle east for major chocolate brand Milka. They attempted to launch a new chocolate bar “Milka & Oreo” into the UAE market, a mostly Muslim demographic.

Unfortunately, Milka had translated the word ‘chocolate liquor‘ in the ingredients list as ‘alcoholic beverages’ in Arabic, a real faux-pas in a predominantly dry region where the consumption of alcohol is strictly regulated. As rumours about the chocolate bar containing alcohol spread across social media in the country, the Dubai Food Safety Department carried out an ingredient analysis, concluding in the end that the chocolate bar did NOT contain any alcohol whatsoever.

This error resulted in the chocolate bar being removed from store shelves and recalled in order to avoid further confusion amongst its customers. While Milka didn’t comment on the issue, it’s safe to assume that this incident had significant financial consequences for the parent company, Mondelēz International, not to mention the reputational damage to the brand in this region.

Key takeaways on avoiding Sales Loss due to Bad Labels

Companies need to keep in mind that label production should not be the starting point for foreign market entry. The actual process of going global needs, to begin with considering the value proposition of a brand and its product. The first question stakeholders need to pose is “How do we approach the target market and convince them of our product value proposition?”.

Thorough research and a clear strategy is a must in order to achieve successful market entry. Adopting this approach should protect you against poor sales and even worse, a complete market entry failure.