Could Poor Label Translation Hurt Your Sales?

Could Poor Label Translation Hurt Your Sales?
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As global market opportunities continue to increase in part due to the growth trend in emerging markets, companies continue to benefit from investing in global reach 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 to transcreation.  That means they must adapt their offerings to the cultural and social customs of their 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 this the hard way, many years ago. Due to an inadequate translation process and careless research, these companies have all experienced the side effects of poor label translation: huge product recalls and sales losses.

New brands hitting the global market should learn from the big guys.  Trying to promote and sell their brands and products as they would within their domestic market is often a recipe for disaster.

Brand Transcreation for Emerging Markets

Emerging markets have demonstrated a continuous market growth pattern for over 7 years. Therefore, they’re a good opportunity for companies hoping to hit an international market. Overall EMDE growth (Emerging Markets and Developing Economies) did slow to a low of 4% in 2019. However, it’s expected to pick back up to 4.6% in 2020-21, as opposed to U.S. growth of 2%.

Although some countries are estimated to see a decrease – countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are continuing at a stable pace. India will likely grow at around 6.6%, according to predictions, which is twice the percentage of most advanced economies.

An important fact to remember is that in most of these emerging market countries, English is a second language. In fact, much of the population – especially senior citizens, 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. 

Brand Proposition and Identity

Big-name brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola have spent millions building the attention and 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 if the value their product offers is actually interesting to a target country’s population. Along with that, the way this value is represented must also be adapted to suit the audience of the specific country being targeted.

First and foremost, key elements of transcreation are 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 could even need to change their logo to avoid risking poor sales or even a complete market entry failure in certain countries.

Avoiding Poor Label Translation

Chinese translation bloopers are definitely some of the most prolific and humorous examples in this field. The web is full of examples of the now very familiar and often innocuous “engrish” hiccups. But don’t be mistaken, embarrassing translation errors have happened to some of the 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 of 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. This was a real faux-pas in a predominantly dry region where the consumption of alcohol is strictly regulated. 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 among its customers. Milka didn’t comment on the issue. However, it’s safe to assume that this incident had significant financial consequences for the parent company, Mondelēz International, not to mention the damage to the brand in this region.

Key Takeaways on Avoiding Sales Loss due to Poor Label Translation

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 country market to convince them of our product value proposition?”.

In order to define a clear answer to this question, thorough research is the key component for devising a good strategy in order to make the market entry successful and to avoid poor sales, or even worse complete market entry failure.

At K International, our consultants are here to assist in all aspects of the transcreation and label translation process. If you’re keen to avoid sales impacts from poor label translation, we should talk.  Contact us today!

If you’d like to learn more, visit International Labelling: The Key to Global Success.