Slogans: A cautionary localization tale

101 Guides, Language Faux Pas, Languages3 May 20184.4k

What makes a slogan successful? Being memorable? Making people think? Being easy to understand?

The reality is that slogans can work for a number of reasons, but when coming up with suggestions, brands should be looking for options that are simple, powerful and thoughtful. If they fail to fulfill these criteria, they’re unlikely to be remembered for long.

Nike and EA Sports are among the most recognizable brands in the world, but they have all backed this up with memorable slogans. For example, ‘Just Do It’ instantly conjures up images of Nike adverts, while ‘It’s In The Game’ has long been aligned with EA Sports’ range of games. 

Companies may be responsible for running hugely successful promotional campaigns in their domestic market, but this does not mean their methods will automatically transfer to the international business community.

What are the challenges of slogan localization?

One of the main problems with slogans is that they are generally only between two and five words long, so finding a direct translation in other languages can be tricky. This means that while it may be possible to retain the meaning, the catchiness could be lost. 

For example, translating from English to Spanish can see the text expand by around 15 per cent, meaning that word-for-word translation is not going to be possible. 

Slogans are by their very nature highly creative and they often make use of cultural idioms, which is a big no-no in localization. Moreover, puns and jokes made in one language are unlikely to travel across language borders. 

Languages also have different reactions to the emotional state. For example, the Greek language has at least four different ways for how the English word love is used. I’m sure McDonald’s were very happy with that fact! 

This gives an indication of the complex challenges facing brands when they are trying to come up with a universal slogan for their business. 

The need for a proactive approach

What this shows is that companies need to be thinking about localization at the early stages of slogan development if they are serious about using it internationally. By having in-country linguists for the nations they are planning to target involved in the process from the start, embarrassing language faux pas can be avoided. 

As a direct translation is unlikely to work, teaming up with experts to come up with a suitable solution is the only logical step. Localization providers are experts in the culture of a language and so can offer insight and advice on how to amend a slogan to make sure it still delivers.

A final note of caution, however, comes from Electrolux. The vacuum maker had huge success with its ‘Nothing sucks like Electrolux’ slogan in the UK, but this was not repeated in the US. 

This left executives scratching their heads at the mystery until it was pointed out that sucks is a slang term in the US that relates to poor quality. So if it is this difficult with different versions of the same language, just imagine the challenges involved in using completely different languages! 


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