Consequences of a Poor Translation for Your Company

Consequences of a Poor Translation for Your Company

Entrepreneurs often see translations as a necessary evil. It is something that you need to get quickly before launching the new website or product. Nevertheless, a translation is not something that is done in a minute. Translators work with precision to convert the meaning and tone of the text into a different language while taking into account the cultural aspect. A poor translation may cause reputational damage and bad PR. Incorrect texts in agreements may lead to business decisions being made based on misinformation. These examples have serious consequences. Think of the liability of your company, for instance. In this blog, I have shown what problems (and solutions) can come from machine translations. Nevertheless, human translators can deliver a poor translation too. In this blog, I will give some examples of translations gone wrong and some tips for choosing the proper translator for your translation job.

Consequences of a Poor Translation for Your Company

Reputational damage due to a poor translation

On the Internet, you can find many pictures with grammar, spelling and translation mistakes, leading to derision and chuckling on a daily basis. Grammar, spelling and translation mistakes make you and your company look like an amateur, while it often means a good chunk of your marketing budget has been invested in these texts.

A while back, a news item from Texas highlighted a car dealership that had a king-size billboard on the side of the road, using ‘piece of mind’ instead of ‘peace of mind’. They were criticized tremendously. It would cost them $250 to correct the billboard, but they decided to donate the money to The East Texas Literacy Council. It raises the question whether that donation undoes the reputational damage of that billboard that continues to be on the side of the road (please note that I am not saying that donating to such causes is a bad thing).

Update 9-21-2018: the news item about this mistake is no longer available

A different meaning locally

Your brand name, product name or slogan may suddenly get a completely different meaning in a foreign language. shows examples of how the English did not want to buy the IKEA Fartfull workbench, how Coors wanted every Mexican to have diarrhea with its American slogan Turn it loose and how Clairol Germany had sluts put poop in their hair with the Mist Stick.

You can imagine that these translation errors are quite “shitty” for your reputation and sales in that specific country. It does not only mean losing a chunk of your marketing budget. It also means spending another chunk of that budget to repair the damage. To give you an example, in 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries. Be careful to whom you give your translation job. Is the translator or translation agency you have found right for this specific job?

Watch out for amateur translators

To underline the importance of a professional translation agency, I will use Toth Zuh Andu as an example. Who is Toth Zuh Andu? Toth Zuh Andu is a tattoo artist who tattooed all kinds of Japanese texts on people. Those people walked around happily with their tattoos until they found out that they had things like ‘chicken soup with noodles’ tattooed on their skin. You can find other examples of terrible translations and their consequences here.

Conclusion poor translations

You do not want to experience such things with your company. Do not choose the first translator you find on the Internet. Ask yourself:

  • What translator is best for you, your company and your text?
  • Do you need a sworn translator or not?
  • Is this translator specialized in a particular type of text?
  • Is there a good price/quality ratio?
  • Can you find feedback about this translator?

If you need a good and affordable translation into Dutch or English, please contact me at or fill out my quotation form. I mainly translate for SMEs, the self-employed, and governmental agencies but others are welcome too. Let’s discuss whether I am right for your translation job.