What Global Gaffes Can Teach You About Multicultural Advertising

Typos, Translations and Other Campaigns Worth Capturing

By Published on .

Most Popular

Some people travel and take pictures of landscapes and the like. I take pictures of typos and advertising. It's an occupational hazard. Here's one of my favorite typo examples from South Africa.

I still think that every country, including the U.S., should have an official typo correction officer. Someone who would clean up typos on all publicly disseminated or posted written materials. In addition to typos, they could clean up all glaring grammatical mistakes and awkward translations. And yes, for the guilty, there would be fines.

My typo fixation became more of an obsession after an encounter with a retail client several years ago. The client had a department that handled credit-card payments. As a service to their customers, payment issues could be handled by using phones conveniently located inside of the store. Rather than have the agency develop a signage package, this department handled their signage needs internally. They printed up bilingual signs announcing, in Spanish, that customers could use the "telephonos." The problem is that in Spanish the word telephone is spelled with an "f" as in "teléfono."

When I informed the client of the error, I was surprised by their response. "Is it really that big of a deal? It's one letter and it's still understandable, right?" It was made clear to me that they were not sufficiently motivated to spend money on reprints. After returning to the agency, I decided to create English-language ads and signage samples with a twist. I peppered them with typos and sent them off to the client with a note. "Please review and see if you would be OK with these." Needless to say, they were not.

Back to the photos. Next stop: Madrid, Spain. While this Burger King sign is understandable, it's definitely an awkward translation. Perhaps they might consider running translations past their U.S. Hispanic agency. After all, the U.S. Hispanic teams are staffed with truly bilingual individuals who could help smooth out funky English translations like this.

When it's not your language, it's easy to miss the impact of typos or poor language usage. In some ways, it's the reason why people, when exposed to a new language, often learn curse words first. They can be fun to say and the full power of the word is lost on the non-native speaker. So calling someone a "puta" or using a curse word like ch**ga, for example, may not faze the person who is learning to speak Spanish for the first time. He would never, however, toss similar curse words around in English or his native tongue without a real sense of embarrassment or at least an awareness of who is in earshot.

These ads are from a Madrid branch of Barclay's bank. Here in the States, we pussy-foot around with words like recession and say the "D" word in hushed tones.

In contrast, this campaign places the word "crisis" front and center. A good example of a word that although easily understood in both Spanish and English, would not be as readily accepted by non-Spanish speakers if it started appearing in advertising for their local U.S. bank.

Finally, there is a Spanish government campaign encouraging condom usage. It is featured on Facebook and other social-networking sites. It includes a hip-hop jingle, video and a full media blitz targeting youth. It's controversial. Not solely because of the subject matter, but because it is written in slang and it uses "chat" spellings.

Spain, of course, is always held in high esteem as the mother country of the Spanish language. It is nice to see that like the U.S. Hispanic advertising community, they too are engaged in conversations about the evolution of language as relates to advertising communication and relevance to youth segments and the ever changing language of new media.

In this article: