The 3 Major Challenges Of Marketing Translation

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


A business’s success depends so much on Marketing. Without it, nobody knows who you are and what you have to offer. The role of Marketing is significantly more important when the company reaches its international expansion stage. Companies then need high-quality Marketing Translation. However, many don’t realize the challenges of Marketing Translation. It is not an easy task to undertake. 

It is impossible to reuse the same Marketing campaign in a country whose cultures, traditions, consumer behaviors, and perceptions of product is entirely different from yours. Reusing the same old messages can only result in Marketing ineffectiveness, misunderstanding, or worse, destroyed reputation.

Marketing translators take on this daunting task by adapting the Marketing content to its intended audience in the most culturally relevant way.

Of course, even if the translators are experienced, there are still numerous challenges that they have to overcome. Their client’s company is at stake, and they can’t go easy with this task.

At pTranslate, we understand the challenges of Marketing translation. We have conducted a small internal survey to understand what our language experts have to say. 

challenges of Marketing translation

Here’s the result:

1. Marketing Translation Has To Be Understandable

Of course, all translations have to be understandable, or else what’s the point of translating it?

But the REAL question is HOW can we make sure that our translation is understandable?

First of all, we need to determine our target audience. Specifically, we need to know their geographical location.

You can’t translate your documents to Chinese if your audience is based in China. That’s an oversimplification.

China is a huge country with rich culture. People living in Mainland China use a Simplified version of Chinese known as Simplified Chinese, while people living in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other overseas Chinese communities use Traditional Chinese.

Similarly, we all know that some regions of Canada use English, while some others use French. But the type of English and French that Canadians is fairly different from that of the British and the American.

Accounting for these differences mean a lot to the readers. When reading the translation, they know that the translation was intended for them. Marketing effectiveness is all about connecting deeply with the customers, and how can you connect with the customers if the language of your Marketing copy is not the language they use on a daily basis?

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2. Marketing Translation Has To Be Relatable

Striving to achieve “relatability” is not easy. This requires empathy in the translator.

It is simple. How can a Marketing translator effectively translate a Marketing copy intended for the Latin American community if they have never experienced the Latin American culture?

Technically, they can, but they may not be able to convey the message as smoothly as someone who “knows” the culture.

In other words, they have enough cultural sensitivity and cultural competence to “feel” the linguistic subtleties and cultural nuances behind the words and translate them accurately while still sounding natural.

If you’re looking for someone to translate a Marketing copy for a product intended for women only, you might even want to consider finding a female translator. They can relate to the intended demographic, and therefore can craft an exceptional copy that is both understandable and relatable.

That is when translation quality is maximized.

3. Marketing Translators Have To Respect The Original

Yes, when performing Marketing Translation, we need to ensure that the message is appropriately adjusted to “click” with the intended audience.

But that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to make drastic change to the message.

That’s one of the biggest dilemma of the Marketing translator.

To change or not to change? That is the question.

When making adjustments to one word or phrases, we risk changing the tone and underlying meaning behind the entire message.

The copywriter has spent a lot of time and effort to craft a wonderful Marketing copy that best conveys the brand value. It’s now the job of the Marketing translator to retain it while making enough adjustments to ensure that the copy reaches its intended audience in the most culturally relevant way.

Of course, there is no quantitative metric to determine if the translator has effectively “retain” the original voice or not. These are all intangible aspects of a translation, and only experienced, professional Marketing translators with a flair for language can recognize these subtleties.

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Striking A Balance Between Being Relatable and Respecting The Original

What do professional translators do when they are at this dilemma?

It is all about making compromises.

When localizing a Marketing content for an international, overseas market, the priority is being relatable.

There have been many Marketing blunders that happened due to mistranslation. The translator interpreted the phrases too literally, which resulted in loss of tens of millions of dollars:

challenges of Marketing translation

HSBC Holdings, a UK-based financial institution with an international reach, had to spend $10 million due to a translation mistake. 

Its slogan was “Assume Nothing”, which reflected the company’s pride on security and transparency. However, many translations of the slogan ended up reading as “Do Nothing”.

challenges of Marketing translation

KFC, the internationally famed fried chicken empire, also faced a similar Marketing blunder.

When expanding to China, their Marketing department planned to localize the “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan to Chinese. This slogan was based on an American phrase that is almost impossible to find an equivalent in Chinese.

Instead of “Finger Lickin’ Good”, the Chinese slogan reads “Eat Your Fingers Off”, which obviously scares the customers.

Moreover, Chinese people use chopsticks, and therefore don’t have the habit of licking fingers after eating their food, which makes the entire slogan irrelevant to the culture.

In the case of HSBC, we should respect the original message. It’s a phrase with not-too-complicated meaning and a universally applicable message. Everyone in the world wants to receive financial services from a secured and transparent bank. There’s no real need to adjust the message to fit the culture. All the Marketing translators have to do is finding the right words to convey exactly what the bank means: don’t make assumptions. Just experience and find out for yourself.

However, in the case of KFC, we should make changes. Firstly, the KFC’s slogan was itself based on a cultural reference. Secondly, the linguistic structure of the phrase was based on an American slang and informal sayings. These 2 combined aspects make it incredibly hard to translate the phrase while keeping both the wording and the underlying meaning intact. Certain changes are necessary.

So, is there any guidance for the Marketing translator when they’re tasked with such a challenging task?

Sadly, there have been no real principle as to how translators can navigate through the complexity of culture in translation.

However, the general rule of thumb is that, if the phrase is technical and is not based on any cultural references, we should respect the wording.

On the other hand, if the phrase is culturally and emotionally “charged”, or can be perceived in a different life if presented to the intended audience, the translator should make a change.

Through experience and accumulated cultural competence, the Marketing translator should be able to recognize where adjustment is needed.


Marketing Translation is a fascinating branch of Translation. There is a lot of analysis that goes into Marketing Translation, and the translator must not only have good linguistic proficiency but also native-level cultural sensitivity to handle Marketing Translation tasks.

Do you have anything to ask, or share about Marketing Translation? Feel free to comment down below. We are eager to hear your thoughts!

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Charile Bavister
2 months ago

A very informative article about the Marketing Translation.Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject! I really appreciate your research.