When Brands Get Lost in Translation
You wonder how B-Grade Bazaar came to be, don’t you? Here’s how I think it went down: The owners of the yet-to-be named business were having a coffee at one of those bustling Athenian cafes. They were discussing, possibly with a pen and paper handy, what to call their business. They wanted an English name so that tourists would instantly understand what they were selling: affordable merchandise. Yet, “affordable” isn’t quite catchy enough. It’s at this moment that the brand goes down the lost in translation rabbit hole.
Did they hear the word somewhere? See it in an online forum? They certainly didn’t check Urban Dictionary. In any case, they somehow arrived at the conclusion that ‘B-Grade Bazaar’ is exactly what they should call their store.
Lost in Translation: Brands Big and Small
Let’s not be too hard on B-Grade Bazaar; it’s a small business that made a strange name choice. Yet, huge corporations have similarly been caught out when it comes to naming their products and translating their slogans appropriately in other countries. For example, take McDonald’s Big Mac in France. Actually, you might not want to, given that it was initially named “Gros Mec”, which means “Big Pimp”.
Slogans can also go horribly wrong when translated. For example, Pepsi’s slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi generation”, didn’t quite have the same meaning in Taiwan. Instead, it read as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Really, really not the tone the soft drink giant was trying to establish.
How to Avoid Translation Blunders
If you’re naming a business or product, or translating a slogan into another language, be careful. Do you want to be using Google Translate for something as important as that? The answer has to be no, especially given that words have both denotative and connotative meanings. Ideally, a professional translator or native speakers of the language should be consulted before settling on key names and phrases.
It’s also important to discuss worst-case scenarios. Is there any possibility that a negative association could be made with your company solely based on the words you have chosen? In particular, be concerned about slang or idioms, where accurate translation is especially challenging. A translator’s objective should be to transmit the intended meaning of the original words or phrase. If this objective is not achieved, your target consumer may be left confused, rather than compelled to walk in and buy those very affordable five Euro shoes.
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