Oftentimes it is assumed that a word in one language is meaningless in another.
For example: in the United States there are often untranslated product names that, while consumers may not understand the meaning of the name, customers do acknowledge it as a legitimately ethnic product.
Sometimes, however, this is not the case. Sometimes when a product name is left untranslated it is a false cognate.
Sometimes this is harmless, sometimes it can be image ruining.
There are countless examples of the false cognate “mist,” which is a word in both English and German.
Mist, in English, means a wispy cloud of liquid.
Mist, in German, means manure or dung.
Some companies that made this oversight:
Irish Mist Whiskey.
Clairol Mist Stick
The company that noticed:
Rolls Royce planned to call the successor to their “Silver Cloud,” the “Silver Mist,” but renamed it the “Silver Shadow,” prior to production, after realizing the car’s unintended German meaning.
While transforming an entire product line to reach an audience speaking/reading a different language is exceedingly expensive (i.e. new packaging, new labeling, new user manuals, new marketing, shipping, sales and customer service), the rewards for a successful transition are often great for business. As things get more and more expensive, the people in charge, in an effort to minimize initial overhead, often look for corners to cut or the least expensive option to solve problems with shipment.
Design layouts may be simplified, advertising initially may be at a minimum, and maybe one or two customer service employees are made available to speak the region’s language.
The one thing that should not be treated with such a lackadaisical attitude is the translating of the product.
This multi-part series reflects over past blunders companies (usually corporations) have made in their international moves due to mistranslations or unrecognized localization problems their product had.
The United State’s “Got Milk?” campaign, when transported to the Mexican Audience used either a machine translation or one done by someone with basic knowledge of Spanish(Mexico). “Tiene Leche” translates literally to “Do you have Milk?” Unfortunately there is also a fairly serious double entendre that is much less prevalent in the American reading of the slogan. The Mexican community found it to be an offensive campaign and since the “Got Milk?” campaign has been localized to read “
Certainly more direct, this translates to “Drink Milk,” which is a step in a different marketing direction, but regardless a significantly less offensive means of communicating with the Spanish speaking populace of Mexico.