Translation Errors Can Be Dangerous - Part 2

July 26th, 2016

Everyone loses when a poor quality translation has such a shocking result.

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Marketing Disasters

Proctor and Gamble

The company Proctor and Gamble decided to market its popular Camay soap in Japan, so the same storyline used in the United States advertisement was used for the Japanese market. This consisted of a woman using the product in a bathroom while a man watched on. What they failed to recognize is that this was an offensive advertisement in Japan because it’s taboo for men and women to share a bathroom at the same time. The whole mess could have been avoided by using someone familiar with Japanese culture to check the advertisement; however, the entire campaign had to be scrapped. Plus, of course, the company suffered a lot of damage due to the negative impact of the advertisement. No words were involved in this particular case, but the cost to the company was enormous – simply because of poor quality.

Braniff Airlines

Braniff Airlines experienced a similar problem when they realized that their marketing campaign for luxurious leather seats in first class was a bomb. ‘Fly in Leather’ translated into Spanish means ‘Fly Naked’. It’s not easy to translate ‘In Leather’ into other languages, and this fact should have been known by marketing executives - it could have prevented a marketing disaster.

There are various verbal and non-verbal problems that can occur for different reasons, but the underlying issue still remains the same: it’s the inability to correctly transmit ideas from one culture to another. There’s only one solution to this problem and that is to use people or expert translators who are not only natives of the target language but are also familiar with the source language at a near-native level. The consequences of not using someone who’s familiar with both the languages and cultures in question can be dire.

Expert Translations Are Vitally Important to Business

The following case is one that many people will be aware of and it’s a great example of the danger of a poor translation. When an 18-year-old boy collapsed in Florida, he uttered the Spanish word ‘intoxicado’. The friend with him mentioned the word he’d spoken to paramedics, who straightaway believed that it meant ‘intoxicated’. While he was being treated for drug abuse he subsequently went into a coma and ended up becoming a quadriplegic. In this instance, the word ‘intoxicado’ meant nauseous, but because an incorrect translation resulted in the wrong treatment, the following malpractice lawsuit cost the Florida healthcare provider $71 million! If only they’d spent a small amount of money and used a professional interpreter.

As you can see, everyone loses when a poor quality translation has such a shocking result. If during the course of your business you need to deal with a language or culture that’s different from your own, and if you value the time, effort, and money you’ve already invested in your business, then you should only use an experienced, qualified translator or interpreter. It’s such a minor cost when compared to the cost involved in trying to rectify a major wrong.

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