Slogans are usually the first thing people remember about a company. This makes them a powerful form of communication that needs to be memorable and leave a lasting impression on the target audience. Creating an effective slogan can be challenging, but converting it into another language when you are trying to break into international markets is an even more difficult undertaking.
What exactly is a slogan?
First, let’s look at how slogans are referred to in different countries:
UK: end lines, endlines or straplines
USA: tags, tag lines or taglines
Netherlands and Italy: pay-offs or payoffs
Slogans are short, most commonly consisting of three to seven words, and convey a message that impacts on the consumer’s purchasing decision when considering several possible suppliers. Naturally, slogans are very much about associations and make us identify a brand with a particular product or quality. To achieve this, wordplay such as alliteration, rhyme, repetition, puns and phonetic appeal features heavily in slogans, making them very difficult, if not impossible, to translate into another language.
What does the slogan translation process involve?
Slogan translation is mostly target-oriented and involves lexical detachment of the target text from the source. It is therefore a perfect example of the skopos theory of translation. “Skopos theory focuses on translation as an activity with an aim or purpose, and on the intended addressee or audience of the translation. To translate means to produce a target text in a target setting for a target purpose and target addressees in target circumstances. In skopos theory, the status of the source text is lower than it is in equivalence-based theories of translation. The source is an ‘offer of information’, which the translator turns into an ‘offer of information’ for the target audience.”
It is clear that slogan translation requires a shift from literal word-for-word translation to impact-based rendering of the source text. This highly creative process is what we refer to as ‘transcreation‘, a blend of translation and creation. Experienced marketing and PR translation specialists will identify your brand characteristics and message and re-create them in the target language in a way that resonates with your target audience. In other words, an appropriate emotional response is evoked in the different culture of your target market. If this is not achieved, a slogan translation is not successful.
Why do I need to have my slogan translated by an expert?
The direct result of a properly localised slogan is a strong global brand reputation, enabling you to increase your revenue and market share internationally. Most PR and advertising agencies will not have the in-house resources to have slogans translated into another locale, so an external translation specialist needs to be hired. When it comes to your brand image, relying on bilingual staff, a generic translation agency or a non-specialist translator is a risky strategy. Very often, they are not experienced in the highly specialised field of transcreation and may produce literal translations that simply do not work in your target language, or worse, that may have negative connotations in the target language. Such errors will not only damage your reputation but can also be costly in terms of money spent to rectify the damage and time to market.
Slogan translation mishaps
Finally, let’s take a look at a couple of major slogan translation mishaps that could have been prevented by consulting a specialised target-language linguist.
In 2003, Sharwoods spent £6m on a large-scale campaign to launch its new Bundh sauces. Almost immediately they began receiving calls from Punjabi speakers complaining that “bundh” sounds like the Punjabi word for “arse”. Sharwoods, however, has no intention of changing the name, saying “We hope that once they understand the derivation of the Bundh sauce range and taste the delicious meals they can produce, they will agree that it is miles apart from the Punjabi word that is similar but spelled and pronounced differently (with a long ‘u’).” Although the word may be spelled and pronounced slightly differently, it still evokes unpleasant associations for Punjabi speakers and should not have been released in a market with many speakers of Punjabi.
US chicken mogul Frank Perdue’s slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken,” didn’t have the same appeal for consumers south of the border. When translated into Spanish for a billboard in Mexico, the slogan came out as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.” Presumably, that’s not the kind of image Perdue wanted to portray.
“It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”