Twisted translations and product sales: does one impact the other?

I know manufacturers are cash-strapped and feeling the crunch in these hard fiscal times. If I were in such a situation, I would be looking for every opportunity to find efficiencies and cut operating expenditures as well. One unlikely place seems to be in paying translators to migrate product blurbs from one language to another.

In Quebec, products are required to sport their information in both French and English. Some companies demonstrate substantial attention to detail in either language, ensuring that the product description, ingredient list, titles, subtitles, etc. are painstakingly accurate in either language. Far too many companies, however, appear to scramble for the easy button, particularly when translating from English to French. An apparently prolific use of either their nephew’s-best-friend’s-uncle’s-daughter-who-is-in-third-grade-taking-a-language-class-and-can-translate-this-for-nothing or Google translate creates a tide of poorly-translated, often humorous, sometimes incomprehensible information on product labels. I suspect it most likely is the latter as companies can access the service for free from anywhere, anytime, and it is fast. They also appear not to care much about double-checking the translation. I have also seen this in action in other provinces and countries.

What fascinates me about this phenomenon more than the laziness at play, or the uncontrollable fits of laughter that inevitably come from trying to figure out the gibberish that is proudly displayed on a self-serious product for which some marketing guru was undoubtedly paid good money in getting the product to market, is the question of whether such poor labeling affects sales in any way. If it did, I would have to believe that the products would be examined, and corrections made to ensure that they appeal to their market.

That this does not happen, or happens infrequently, suggests that consumers aren’t voting with their dollars, they don’t spend any time looking at labels, or that they don’t know better. Each possibility contains fascinating nuggets for debate in a society where we are supposedly short on money, believe that marketing sells, and that the education system is under continual strain to deliver more for less while being unappreciated.


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