Culture, translation and marketing


6 September, 2012


As you know, localization is the translation and cultural adaptation of a product to a local market. This cultural adaptation goes beyond words and takes place in almost every single product that is localized.

In this article we want to give you some examples of cultural issues that, if not taken into account, can affect the introduction of your products in the new markets.

An obvious example is thousand separators. English speaking countries use a comma as a thousand separator, while other countries, like Spain or Denmark, use a period. This is crucial for pharmaceutical and financial related texts. Look at the translation below, where the numbers have not been localized.

EN: Take a dose of 2.175 ml twice a day

ES: Tome una dosis de 2.175 ml dos veces al día

A Spanish reader may assume that this figure is a thousand and it should in fact read 2.175 (2,175 in English). Can you imagine what a dose of 2.175 ml can imply for a Spanish speaker? Will this medicine be available in carafes?

Another typical error appears in the adverse effects of a medicine. This note can also cause confusion to the reader:

EN: Less frequent (minimum 1 out of each 1,000 people): nausea and vomiting

ES: Poco frecuentes (al menos 1 de cada 1,000 personas): nauseas y vómitos

As this comma is a decimal separator in Spanish, 1,000 are the same as 1. Therefore, these symptoms occur in 1 out of 1 people. This is exactly the contrary to what the source text is trying to say.

Diverse People in a Circle with Culture Concept

Culture is also present in the graphics used for advertising purposes. A pharmaceutical company, in an attempt to simplify its message (and probably also reduce translation costs), used only graphics for an ad, so that they could use the same pictures in all their target countries. The picture sequence was as follows:

Left picture: an ill man

Middle picture: the man takes the medication

Right picture: the man gets well

This works in many countries. However, in Arab countries, where text is written from right to left, this gave the wrong message. When the company noticed the error, they immediately changed the picture order, but the damage was probably already done.

Colours can also have opposite meanings. For example, in Western cultures, white is the color of purity and newborns, while in Eastern cultures, like China, it is the color of mourning.

Numbers and some animals are quite important too. Did you know, for example, that numbers 4 and 7 are bad luck numbers in China? Or that pigs are considered dirty animals in Arab countries?

Taking into account all these cultural issues will help you to avoid cultural blunders that will have a negative effect in the distribution of your products in your target markets.

We hope that this helps you to understand that localization involves much more than just translating text. Check with your advertising consultants how cultural issues can affect your logo or your website. Jensen Localization will help you with language issues.

If you have more examples of differences between countries and cultures, feel free to share them with us in the comments section!

Culture, International Marketing, Jensen Localization, Localization, Translation Errors

Leave a Reply