With the explosion in global marketing, a whole new language has sprung forth. While it doesn’t have an official name, let’s call it “Lost in Translation”. Most of these mistakes are just funny and although they affect sales, they do not cause harm. But, some marketing messages are downright dreadful and could cause great harm t o the consumer. Either way, if the company had used the services of a professional translation agency, they would have saved themselves time, money and perhaps grief.
Mead Johnson Baby Products
In 2003, Mead Johnson Nutritional experienced a serious translation error of their marketing materials from English to Spanish. Due to erroneous preparation instructions on the label, Mead Johnson was forced to recall 4.6 million cans of baby formula.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, preparation as translated on the label could have resulted in: irregular heartbeat, seizures, renal failure and possibly death.
Had this horrible translation mistake not been rectified timely, Mead Johnson would have had to deal with serious financial implications both from government fines and litigation. Additionally, consumers would have suffered serious life changing issues.
Willie Ramirez Intoxicado
Marketing is not the only field that suffers from cultural misunderstandings and poor interpretation. In Willie Ramirez’s case, a horrible translation mistake was debilitating.
Willie had gone out with a friend the evening of January 22, 1980, when suddenly he developed a headache that felt like “someone was sticking a needle through my head”.
The South Florida hospital thought the comatose Willie had intentionally overdosed on drugs. His Cuban family and friends attempted to explain Willie had eaten a bad hamburger for lunch and they believed him intoxicado.
The doctors only spoke Spanish, but a bilingual staff translated intoxicado to intoxicated. A professional translator would have known that in Cuba, intoxicado indicated “poisoned” rather than intoxicated, which implied Willie was drunk or high on drugs.
It turned out to be neither. Willie actually had an intracerebeller hemorrhage. Since medical testing pointed to a drug overdose, the doctors treated him accordingly. Even worse, he bled for two days while still unconscious. Ultimately, the treatment delay and subsequent med error led to Willie’s becoming quadriplegic.
A law suit, supposedly covering the span of Willie’s life, settled for $71 million dollars.
What’s In a Name?
Many large corporations have inadvertently named their products and/or services seemingly innocent names, only to discover something got “lost in translation”.
Take Hoover, the widely known vacuum cleaner manufacturer. One of their machines named Zyklon created an unfortunate association in Germany. Zyklon translates to “cyclone” in English. However, Zyklon B was the name of a lethal insecticide commonly used in gas chambers during the Nazi Holocaust.
One poorly translated word can cause horrible consequences! Pretty scary, isn’t it?