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Speak your audience’s language

In the wake of John Lewis managing director Andy Street’s baffling tirade against the French, it struck a chord with us here at London Translations.

We’ve always been fully aware of the importance of cultural knowledge and sensitivity; it’s what sets us apart from our competitors who take far too literal an approach to translations.

Successful translations lie not only within the language but also in the million tiny idioms and customs that make up international communication. In the modern world it doesn’t take long for a story to grow wings and Mr. Street’s comments were soon blasted around the twitter-sphere before grabbing the attention of the major news outlets.

With John Lewis launching a French version of their website and looking to expand their operations throughout France, his comments couldn’t come at a more inopportune moment.

With everyone from the mayor of Paris to the French Embassy in London weighing in, the situation rapidly snowballed until Mr. Street was forced in to a rushed apology – blaming it on a misjudged sense of humour.

What will be interesting to see is just how badly this will affect John Lewis and their business plan in France – companies have failed in foreign markets for far smaller missteps.

Research your market

There have been numerous high profile companies that have committed embarrassing faux pas when moving into foreign markets or conducting business overseas; all of which could have been easily avoided if they had used our Validata International Brand Disaster Checking Service. We thought that we would list a few of our favourite examples from over the years.

  • At the 1994 World Cup, official partner Heineken as part of their promotions, decided to imprint the flags of the nations who had qualified for the final of the tournament. Amongst the 24 nations that had qualified was Saudi Arabia, whose flag depicts the Islamic creed the Shahada. The resulting uproar from Muslims across the world unhappy at their holy verse being associated with alcohol meant a very costly product recall and abandonment of their promotion.
  • In 2002, Umbro inexplicably decided to launch their latest trainer with the name Zyklon. Due to this being the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to carry out the holocaust of millions of Jews it understandably was met with huge protest and anger and Umbro were forced into an embarrassing recall and apology.
  • Honda launched their new model “Fitta” to the Nordic market in 2001. Unfortunately for Honda ‘Fitta’ is a very old, vulgar way to describe a woman’s genitalia in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. Once their mistake was discovered, Honda relaunched the car under the new name “Jazz”
  • When the Coca-Cola Company launched its latest soft drink Fresca to the Mexican market it was met with ridicule. Nobody at Coca-Cola had realised that Fresca was slang for lesbian in Mexico.
  • Pepsico ran in to a translation problem when they ran their advertising slogan ‘Come alive with Pepsi’. Their literal Chinese translation read ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ a fairly ambitious claim!
  • Closer to home and proving that cultural sensitivities are important even when working domestically is the 1994 launch of the mobile phone provider Orange in Northern Ireland. Their slogan ‘the future’s bright, the future’s orange’ was not received well by the catholic population as the term orange is widely used to refer to the orange order and the protestant population. Orange then had to change their advertising slogan and branding for Northern Ireland, but by then the damage was done.

Understanding the culture and sensitivities of the markets you are working in is essential. That’s why here at London Translations we only ever use native speakers as translators because of the rich understanding they bring to their work.

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