January 24, 2014

Product Label Translation — Get It Right

Product Label Translation — Get It Right

Any self-respecting label designer wants his label to “pop”; not only for the typography and the alluring color scheme, but for the catchy phrasing of the product and brand names. However, when the label pops because it promises a “Magic Old Skin Remedy,” it might not have the consumer appeal the designer originally intended.

Yes, sometimes product names and descriptions can get lost in translation. Using an electronic language interpreter might seem like an easy and cost-effective method for giving your product trans-Atlantic appeal, but if it is negligently done, you might as well channel that savings into a brand reputation management campaign, especially if your grilled chicken product proudly declares that it comes from the least appealing part of the animal.

Rather than using Google Translate or some other highly fallible program, we recommend shelling out the money to hire a cultural consultant and a native-speaking focus group for whatever nation/language into which you are seeking to expand. It seems so simple and logical – find someone who actually speaks the language fluently before committing to a campaign – but brands nonetheless fail to take this simple step. Well, on the bright side, we have been given some truly hilarious labeling gaffes.

How a Single Word Can Screw You

Now, we aren’t linguists, but from what we know from our glancing understanding of language, occasionally the meaning of a phrase can be entirely altered by the slightest misuse of terminology. So, while something might appear to have been translated accurately according to the strictest definition of a word, the meaning to native speakers could be completely different from what was intended. For example, the phrase on this drawstring baby bag is probably supposed to convey a feeling of tranquility, but even though it could be argued that paralysis can bring along a feeling of calm, it isn’t especially comforting.

Smacked in the Mouth by Slang

We’re constantly introducing new slang terms into pop culture, so we understand how difficult it can be to keep track of how the young’uns speak. However, we have to try and develop a basic understanding of how the natives communicate to one another, otherwise we’re in danger of boldly declaring that our product is a hideous bodily function.

The Syntax/Punctuation/Grammar Tangle

The lack of an understanding of how native speakers talk can give consumers the impression that your brand just doesn’t care. Worse, a bizarrely constructed product label that doesn’t even make the product’s purpose clear can severely compromise sales. Is this product supposed to be a remedy for love-induced hypertension?

The Grammatically Correct Wrong Sentiment

Yes, there is nothing wrong with the following phrase, per se – but when it’s casually employed it tends to convey an attitude that isn’t appropriate. In the case of this prepackaged sandwich, the call to action really seems like a thinly veiled threat.

The Trap of Translating Humor

Written humor has to be culturally specific and precisely constructed to work effectively. If you have a light-hearted, in-your-face slogan, you can’t just translate it directly and expect it to fly in, say, Japanese. Heck, some executives can’t even get ostensibly edgy taglines in their own language right.

If your product brand or label was meant to be edgy and/or funny, please, please, please hire a professional translator and test subject before going global. Sometimes, humorous cultural references simply can’t cross over effectively, as we see with this bizarre slogan translated from Japanese. Nothing gets the women hot like an overly long and awkwardly structured clause! Just ask these two studs!

If you haven’t gotten the point yet, let us summarize: be aware of the fact that — just like we sit here and mock brands/products that have been horribly translated into English — there are snarky bloggers and label designers in Japan and China doing the exact same thing. Don’t let a photo of your product be the subject of endlessly forwarded emails and hastily assembled GIFs.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

Let's work together.

Tell us a little about your project, and we'll be in touch right away.

Your Details

Don't worry, this is for our eyes only, but we want to be able to reach out to you and chat.


Your Project

We help brands solve complex problems to cut through retail clutter to accelerate their sales and growth while minimizing any risks. Tell us how we can help you.

What type of Project are you enquiring about?

What is your budget? $40 - 80k

What is your timeline 4 - 10 Weeks +

Submit Away

Thanks for taking the time to share your project. We'll take a close look and get back to you as soon as possible.

Prepare for a quick response!