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Localization Fails in International Markets: Don't Let This Be You!

Localization is the process of adapting a product to your target market’s cultural, technical, and linguistic requirements. Localizing your product and marketing strategy ensures your international audience is able to interact with your product effortlessly in a way that seems like it was created just for them. Having a professional team handle the localization process is crucial, as these 5 brands found out after their own localization blunders!

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1. Apple. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Apple II was localized for various European markets and Japan. In a race to launch before competitor IBM, Apple failed to localize their keyboard for European markets, and did not include umlauts, accents and other punctuation marks necessary to write in many European languages. They also neglected to translate their user manuals entirely into Japanese! IBM may have reached these markets more slowly, but their focus on proper localization meant they had greater success over Apple’s hastily handled global product release.

2. Pepsi. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Pepsi decided to go international. Their slogan at the time? “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation!”. The campaign was a success in the West, but ran into some hitches when they tried to localize it for China and Germany. In China, it was mistranslated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!” and in Germany as “Rise from the grave with Pepsi!” Not exactly the slogan they were hoping for!

3. Honda. In 2001, this Japanese car manufacturer decided not to change the name of the Fitta when releasing the compact car in Sweden. Unfortunately for Honda, “fitta” is a vulgar word in Swedish, referring to a woman’s genitals. Yikes! Honda quickly made a change and decided to call the car the Honda Jazz in Europe and the Honda Fit in the U.S.

4. Parker Pens. In 1994, Parker Pens decided to market its pens to a Mexican audience. Their headline was “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” but the word for “embarrass” was mistranslated as “embarazar” which means “impregnate” in Spanish! The mistranslated ad read “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. Oops!

5. Starbucks. In Italian, “latte” means “milk”, so Starbucks used the term to sell their café latte drink in their European and English-speaking markets. This worked well pretty much everywhere… except in Germany. In German, “latte” literally means “pole”, but is used as a slang term to mean “male erection”, so you can imagine the reaction when Starbucks began selling lattes in its German locations! The German people, however, took it mostly in good humor and Starbucks actually still includes the untranslated drink on its menu there even today!

To successfully launch a product globally, be sure you’ve got a professional team handling it for you. This will ensure you do not succumb to potentially disastrous errors for your company abroad (and it keep you off of lists like these!).