Product Localization and Brand Translation

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Would you wash your clothes with Barf? Getting it right when it comes to language and translation isn’t always about the international market; sometimes it’s right at home. Having a large population who speak a different language can also pose localization challenges.

We recently read about Kia and IKEA having localization problems with product and brand name translations; now an American-based retailer has released a product with an interesting translation.

Target (the retailer) decided to brand one of their recently launched shoes ‘Orina.’ Nothing offending about that, you might think. However, ‘orina’ means ‘urine’ in Spanish…and what language after English is most widely spoken in the USA? Yes, Spanish.

According to a Target spokeswoman the shoe’s name was based on the Russian proper name ‘Orina,’ which means peace or peaceful. This is definitely not the connotation Spanish speakers have when hearing or seeing the word. As soon as the Spanish meaning was discovered, Target decided to rename the shoe. The company swiftly removed the offending word from the shoe’s description on their website and their in-store signs. Wise moves.

Last week, the company was criticised for the name of another product: a number of dresses in Target’s plus-size range were of a  ‘manatee gray’ colour. As the manatee is a big, ponderous marina mammal, this was regarded as insulting to full-figured women, especially because the colour of the dresses’ smaller sizes were described as ‘dark heather grey.’

Target certainly isn’t the first retailer to use “Orina” or “manatee grey,” and it appears they are learning localization lessons the hard way. Selling to a multilingual audience is challenging, especially if it’s something new; if you want to get it right 80% of the time it takes a lot of planning and appreciation of languages and cultures and how they impact the retail space. Product or brand names are only one of many considerations which may include marketing messages, website usability, POS, customer service or even payment methods.

Appreciating your domestic audience as well is also an important learning point to take from this story. In the USA the Spanish speaking market place is immense. Losing a slice of that pie means serious consequences for the bottom line. Target obviously recognise this as they took such swift action in rectifying the translation.

Checking Brand and Product Name Translations

So, if you are new to the localization game what steps can you take to avoid such PR stories? Well, if you have a budget you can always use a company specialised in translation; the good ones will understand what goes into brand name translation and auditing. They should get it right for you and as well as potentially carry out some linguistic and cultural auditing of chosen translations.

If you don’t have a budget, then there are some things you can do yourself. Firstly, if you have any people in-house that speak other languages they should check any product or brand translations they can. If you don’t have someone within the company then you need to turn to friends, contacts or even try crowdsourcing. Find people anyway you can to look at potential translations of names.

The questions that need to be asked as part of an audit include:

– Gen­eral inter­pre­ta­tion (what reaction does this word provoke?)
– Pos­si­ble mean­ings (how else can it be understood? other meanings?)
– Neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions (any neg­a­tive associations?)
– Exist­ing names (other products or brands? trade­mark concerns?)
– Pro­nun­ci­a­tion issues (how does the name when spoken? sound like anything else?)

This process should be repeated for every lan­guage, culture and locale.

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