Why Simply Translating English Into Spanish Isn’t Enough

When it comes to marketing, taking a message from one language and translating into another is not only ineffective—it can be detrimental to your brand. 

Many companies believe that marketing to a Spanish-speaking audience is as simple as taking their English-language messaging and translating it into Spanish verbatim. But history has proven this is definitely not the best method for reaching Hispanics. In fact, it can backfire in unexpected ways.

Here are four examples of times brands encountered problems when translating their English marketing messages to Spanish:

1. Coors

When Coors translated their “Turn It Loose” campaign into Spanish, it read to many as “Suffer from Diarrhea”. That’s definitely not a good marketing message for a beverage brand.

2. Parker Pen

When the writing utensil company translated their message “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” for Latin America, they used the wrong verb and the message became “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. Yikes!

3. Braniff Airlines

When the now-defunct airline translated their “Fly in Leather” campaign promoting their new leather seats, it was fine in most of Latin America. But not Mexico, where the translation unfortunately read as “Fly Naked”.

4. The American Dairy Association

Makers of the iconic “Got Milk” campaign fortunately realized early that the tagline translated in Spanish to “Are You Lactating?” They smartly decided to lose the tagline and take a different approach when marketing to this audience.

The lesson: Oftentimes simply swapping words across languages doesn’t tell the whole story

There are many unique nuances to language, including slang and regional differences. These can trip up brands up when it comes to translating marketing messages. Make sure you have a clear and informed understanding of the region, culture and language of the people you’re trying to reach before you communicate with them.

As this recent Entrepreneur article notes:

“The most effective way to engage with Hispanics is by the ‘trans-creation’ of the campaign. This means, create a campaign message that appeals to Hispanic core values, yet still respects the overall strategy and branding position from the general market campaign.”