I was talking to a Spanish teacher the other day and she told me that businesses will often translate their content into another language without an awareness of the nuances each language has. Her illustration involved an airline that wanted to boast about their luxurious new leather upholstery, so they had a campaign based around the phrase “Now you can fly in leather in _____ Airlines”.
Then she said, “I’ll show you what the reaction was when they translated that word-for-word in Spanish”, and called an Ecuadorian friend over to explain the scenario. She then told the friend they translated their ad to say, “Ahora, puedes volar en cuero…” and the Ecuadorian cracked up laughing.
Ahora = now, puedes = you can, volar = fly, en cuero = in leather. No problem, a direct translation. So why so funny?
In Spanish, “en cuero” means “get naked” because you are stripping down to the skin. So the airline’s ad campaign in Spanish-speaking countries was saying, “Now, you can fly naked in _____ Airlines”.
That ad campaign happened maybe twenty years ago, and the challenge of language and marketing has not changed. If anything, it’s more difficult today. Paige O’Neill addressed the problem recently on Marketing Pilgrim in her post Are you fluent in the language your customers speak?
We all know the disconnect we feel when the language isn’t quite right for us. It’s true that we will overlook that disconnect if the product is what we want anyway, but the disconnect is still there.
If your business is multicultural, you need to make sure your marketing message is equally multicultural by running translations past native speakers.