Translating Taglines

 As a translator I have always questioned when taglines should or should not be translated in marketing   copy, not only because many brands have trademarked their slogans, but also because most often than not they get completely butchered in the translation process and clearly lose meaning completely.


It goes without saying that the slogan is the brand message they are trying to convey to the potential customers. If it is a catchy one or a memorable, it is how you develop brand identity.


So my question is why do so many companies get this wrong? The reason seems to be money; they rely on inside staff rather than seeking or hiring a diverse staff (or translators) knowledgeable about the country they are targeting.  Also, there is a lack of just primary research that happens here even from the inside.  If it does not sound right, do some research before you put it out there. What is more surprising is that you are not talking about small or unrecognizable brands either, which I find appalling as to how their creative departments and directors would allow that to go to print.   


Many companies have tried and failed miserably on their translations that there are not enough examples of such hilarity. You just have to Google “translating taglines” and mistranslated slogans’ that pages upon pages seem to come up.


And the results are disastrous and hilarious.


I understand that many slogans use play on words, cultural references and slang words that connect with their general audiences but clearly does the opposite in another language. That is something that could also be referenced in dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary where the slang and colloquial phrases used by many are explained.

It is a tough task not because of its difficulty in getting the correct message across without losing its message but because some just don’t translate at all. Such is the case of Nike’s ‘Just Do It” it did not only trademark its English slogan in several countries essentially eliminating the need for a translation but legally restricting it too but also because its translation never worked well cross-culturally.  However, what Nike does is brilliant; they adapt the same slogan accentuating the countries values and purpose and each countries idea of what the ‘ideal man’ is.


A bit sexist if you ask me, but that is beside the point.


Plus, do you believe that with Nike’s brand recognition it would really make a difference in their bottom line by translating the slogan?  Just the logo is recognizable enough worldwide that a slogan would not make that much of a difference.


Another example is the “Got Milk” commercials. Although this slogan is also trademarked it was translated to the Latino market and suffered a major embarrassment when they came up with the Spanish version. Therefore the translated tagline is Toma Leche. (Drink Milk). The ad itself had to go through many cultural updates because the cultural ads themselves targeting Latinos were not only wrong in the slogan but in cultural representation.


Their later campaigns turned into an initiative The Breakfast Program targeting Latino families that center the importance of “drinking milk as their first meal.”


The first time I translated an ad I came up with 3 or 4 versions of the translated slogan and as I translated the rest of the copy, I submitted what seemed to me the most appropriate. Generally though they tend to be either too literal (which they complained about) or told me that I had missed the idea completely. So therefore I generally submit them all and have the client decide. As mentioned above, given that in advertising they highly use play on words, double meanings and puns, it becomes extremely difficult to recreate and culturally adapt these taglines. One truly does have to put a creative cap on this one!


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