In 2015, the Australian Defense Force (ADF) made a very public and international faux pas.
It launched a Twitter account under the handle @fight_DAESH as a method of combating the Islamic State’s media efforts. A noble cause and the ADF should be lauded for its enthusiasm to engage with Arabic speakers, but its counter-propaganda efforts fell very short of the intended mark because of what can only be called abysmal translation.
On September the 10th, the account tweeted the following in English:
"#Gold #Dinar worthless metal in global market. #ISIS can't trade legally with currency"
It then tweeted what it thought was the same message in Arabic:
"In metal worthless global market, cannot with currency on the side, ISIS legal"
Making matters worse, Fighting Daesh’s account bio in 2015 noted its aims included correcting false information disseminated on Twitter by Daesh and sympathisers. Today, the same bio reads “enhancing online global anti terrorism communications.”
Not only did this leave the ADF with egg on its face, but by taking so little care over its social media output in regards to translations, it undermined its own goal of enhancing communications, and may have lost the trust of Arabic speakers in the country, the same people it was purportedly trying to reach.
According to ABC News, after the nation’s prominent Arabic speakers and commentators took issue with the account, the ADF released a statement that said qualified linguists were engaged to translate the tweets but that “transfer of Arabic content across IT programs resulted in incorrect grammar sequencing.”
As many commentators pointed out at the time, there was a fair chance the only IT program the tweets were passing through was Google Translate.
If that was the case, it begs the question of why a key government agency would choose machine translation in a nation that is home to around 35,000 Arabic speakers. In fact, Arabic is now Australia’s third most spoken language behind English and Mandarin.
Are You Lactating?
What makes this kind of error worse is that big social media accounts don’t seem to learn from the mistakes of others.
The US’ famous ‘Got Milk?’ slogan was mistranslated to ‘Are You Lactating?’ in Mexico, and Clairol’s ‘Mist Stick’ curling iron became a ‘Manure Stick’ in Germany.
Meanwhile, hilarity ensued among native Spanish speakers when Perdue Farms’s slogan ‘It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’ was translated to ‘It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate.’
As funny as these instances are, they serve to highlight the perils of poor translations in social media marketing campaigns. Making linguistic errors of this magnitude can have several knock-on effects:
- Damage to reputation - If a company cannot make an effort to double-check its marketing efforts, its reputation is likely to suffer as a result.
- Revenue loss - In line with the hit to reputation, companies may experience a drop in revenue as customers choose to align themselves with brands that actually do make an effort.
- Bad publicity - The adage stating that there’s no such thing as bad publicity doesn’t always hold true, in fact, bad publicity can cause real damage.
It’s important to remember that business and organisational social media accounts have a job to do: attract attention and either sell an idea, viewpoint, or product. If the account is gaining attention for the wrong reasons, it is actively undermining its own efforts.
Sure, professional human translation is more expensive than machine translation, but it’s more accurate, professional translators understand the nuances of the target language, and they do not rely upon literal translations.
If Pepsi had engaged high-quality human translators when it decided to translate its ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ slogan in China, it would not have ended up with ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.’ And if KFC had done the same, its ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ slogan would not have become ‘KFC eat your fingers off.’
Just as social media management is best handled by professionals, so too are matters revolving around language, and that includes translations.
German to English & English to German Social Media Post Translations
Witinall Language Services offers high-quality human translation services from English to German and vice versa. All translations are performed by a qualified linguist with in-depth knowledge of each language.
If your business needs to reach a German or English-speaking audience via its social media accounts, reach out to Witinall and find out how we can help ensure your messaging is on point and suitable.
We’re confident that if Clairol had approached us, they would not have marketed a Manure Stick in Germany!