Localization entails far more than simply translation. It requires, above all else, a cultural understanding of the practices and norms of the country into which you are localizing.
A famous historical example would be Colgate sending one of its top brands, Cue, over to the French market. Problem was, unbeknownst to Colgate, “Cue” was also the name of one of France’s most notorious porno magazines. Cue is also a slang term in French for “butt,” prompting Colgate to yank the brand, which is no longer made today.
If you’re still unsure about the importance of localization, take a look at some real-world localization blunders below.
- The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, ko-kou-ko-le, which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth”.
- Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means “big breasts”. In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales
- When translated into Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off”
- Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.
- In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.
- When releasing their car the Pinto in Brazil, Ford apparently presumed that they didn’t need to localize the name. After all, it has a vaguely “Spanish-sounding” ring to it, and Brazilians speak Spanish, right? Wrong. While pinto can have a number of different meanings in Spanish (the verb “to paint,” for example), in Portuguese – the language spoken in Brazil – pinto is a slang word for “tiny male genitalia.” After sales for the Pinto flopped, Ford changed the car’s name to Corcel (horse). In the west, the meaning of pinto has become more associated with men who drive big cars in general.
- When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go”. After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
- Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”, got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused”.
- When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. However, the company’s mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass. Instead the ads said that “It wont leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.