A great portion of the South Florida market is composed of foreign professionals who have fled their politically and economically troubled countries in search of a better standard of living. In Broward, Hispanics account for the largest of these diverse groups. Their purchasing power is high: between $40,000 and $80,000 per year. This means that they play an important role in economic growth. They can buy luxurious cars and houses, good products, and even give significant contributions in political elections.

Purchasing power means more opportunities for businesses, but it also means that we must know our new prospect clients and their culture. Translation of an organization’s literature is possibly the most direct way of reaching that niche. Taking into account the cultural factor when you have marketing material translated is imperative. Otherwise, the whole purpose of a publicity campaign may be defeated. Here are some examples of how literal translations without taking into account the audience’s culture have undermined the purpose:

The vacuum cleaner

An European vacumm cleaner manufacturer used the following slogan on the launching of a new product in the US: “nothing sucks like …(name of product)”. Even though the verb “to suck” was grammatically correct in this context, it bears a very negative meaning in American slang.

The airline

When one of the leading US airlines wanted to introduce its new leather seats to first class travellers in the Mexican market, a literal translation of the slogan “fly in leather” came up as “vuele en cuero”, which in Spanish slang means “fly naked”.

The beer

A reknown beer company used a literal translation of its slogan in English “turn it loose”. The message obtained in Spanish gave the impression that the company was advertising for strong diarrhea.

Like the above examples, there are thousands more. Even global organizations commit cultural mistakes that cost them millions of dollars they could have saved, had they done some cross-cultural research. Along with the language comes the culture. Always seek a professional translation consultant, able to perceive these cultural nuances.

By Andreina Ojeda, M.A. Modern Languages and M.A. International Studies.
President and Founder of Lingua Language Center at Broward College.