Translation Gone Wrong: Big brand mistakes and what you can do to avoid them

Tag’s Global CEO, David Kassler, recently spoke to an audience at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on the importance of maintaining brand consistency across borders. He said, “You can’t simply ‘translate’ your big idea and expect it to resonate with all people in all countries, cities, and towns. Your message needs to be relatable locally.”

Sounds simple enough, but brands, both big and small, continue to believe that simply translating language verbatim will allow them to effectively communicate with their target audience across all markets.

That’s not how it works. When localization is treated as an afterthought in taking a campaign global, the result is poor translation, which can mean costly—and often humiliating—mistakes.

A leading financial institution spent $10 million rebranding due to damage caused by subpar translations. International adaptation wasn’t considered during creative development, and their tagline of “Assume nothing” became “Do nothing” when translated directly, completely altering the brand’s message.  

Without sharp localized content, your clever copy could fall flat, minimizing your impact when launching into new markets. More alarmingly, you risk offending potential consumers, alienating audiences, and voiding your time-consuming, expensive creative work.

How can you do it better? David Kassler continued to explain, “[Globalization] can only be achieved by partnering with an expert who understands the nuances of local cultures, has the tech and processes to quickly adapt your messaging and imagery, and knows which channels will reach your audience.” And he is right.

Here are three steps to successfully delivering your brand message across borders:

Be open to the idea of transcreation—adapting the concept rather than just translating the words. As writers, we appreciate the work that went into your existing copy, but also realize that the best tagline for the target market might look very different from the English original.

Find a strong localization/language services partner to help you navigate different cultural segments, both domestic and international. Our clients choose to work with us because we specialize in the global adaptation of brand communication. We offer cultural consultation services to help our clients identify cultural and linguistic red flags and determine how marketing collateral will resonate worldwide.

Think globally, from the start. Involve your language partner in the creative development process. This way, they can advise on the translatability of prospective campaign concepts and copy further upstream, advising how to connect with international consumers, identifying potential roadblocks—both cultural and linguistic—and ensuring no problems arise in the first place.

Tag delivers international adaptation services to brands around the world, pioneering the term “transcreation” and empowering brands to do more than just translate words. We work with creatives from start to finish to turn big ideas into concepts that resonate locally and culturally and elicit the right emotional response. We understand the power of in-market talent, with our network of more than 4,000 creatives, including copywriters, translators, researchers, marketers, and creative directors. We support our knowledge with our technology, repurposing assets and expanding creative reach.

Learn more about Tag’s international adaptation services:

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