Case Study: Translating a Catchphrase, Tagline, or Slogan
If you search online, you’ll find thousands of mistranslations of catchphrases, brand slogans, and warning signs to name a few. In fact, websites and blog posts dedicated to posting mistranslations have gone viral in past years. It might be funny to look at them from afar, but when the brand of your company (or a company you represent) has its reputation is on the line, it’s a different story.
This Case Study featuring Tourism Calgary and Languages in Motion (LiM) shows how LiM (a translation company) used a few important tactics to consider when translating a tagline, catchphrase, or branded content.
LiM was asked to translate the City of Calgary’s tagline “Be Part of the Energy” into six languages for Tourism Calgary to better understand how the International Travel Trade Markets interpreted the phrase. The Projects Team at LiM realized the vital importance of a tagline and the impact it has on the brand of the City of Calgary. When asked to translate it, LiM needed to make sure what the Brand Team wanted to convey was translated as best as possible.
“We could translate the words literally, which would be the fastest process, however, the meaning, the essence and the play on words as well as the time and effort that Calgary Economic Development and Tourism Calgary had spent into creating the phrase “Be Part of the Energy”, would be lost.” (Michael Burak, LiM)
When asked to explain what Be Part of the Energy meant to Calgary, Tourism Calgary responded with the following:
“There’s an energy in Calgary that exhilarates, invigorates and motivates. It’s a place of big skies and big ideas. Nothing is etched in stone, anything is possible, and everything is on the horizon, including a Rocky Mountain playground that will take your breath away. Calgary is an economic force and a catalyst for today’s trailblazers. There’s an intense, urban vitality here that unleashes the bold, can-do spirit of entrepreneurs and innovators, artists and athletes. Our city’s vibrancy and competitive spirit drive commerce, culture and sport. In every endeavour, we are risk-takers and visionaries, and we are thriving. Our lifestyle is active, our perspective is global, and our Western values run deep. Volunteerism is in our blood. A handshake still means something. And who you are is more important than who you know or where you’re from. This is a diverse city that embraces change and changemakers, and supports and sustains its communities and its people. There is opportunity here – to start a business, start a new life, or start an adventure. And everyone is welcome to be part of the energy”.
LiM knew that it was critical to have the context of the message translated correctly. Before they started translation, they had an in-depth discussion with Tourism Calgary to really understand the meaning behind “Be Part of the Energy.” Once they fully understood their message and what they wanted to convey, they concluded that it would be best to bring in multiple perspectives. To do so, they assigned two experienced translators for each of the six languages that were translated. Each of the translators came up with three or four different versions of the translation along with a short paragraph explaining how the translation matches up with “Be Part of the Energy”.
Once the translations were complete, the staff at Tourism Calgary were able to choose which explanation best suited their brand and communicated what they wanted. In the case of Japanese, one of the translators recommended that we keep the tagline in English. They explained the following:
“I have literally spent hours and hours thinking of how to come up with the Japanese slogan containing as much sense of the original slogan. I searched different slogans for municipalities and companies, and I found that some of them actually have their slogans in English. So, the last possibility is for you to just have “Be Part of the Energy” in English. In Japan, there is a tendency of thinking English as something fashionable. I would not be offended if you choose to do so. However, I hope you like the slogans in Japanese that I came up with”.
Catchphrases, don’t translate literally. It’s impossible to convey the same meaning without context. By having Tourism Calgary to provide an in-depth explanation of the meaning of the phrase, we were able to fully understand what it really meant which helped us create the message in the target languages that Tourism Calgary wanted to portray.
We also conclude that having more than one translator come up with multiple translations was a very important step to accomplishing the best possible interpretation of the tagline. The perspective of two professional translators was a very important step for a phrase that may come across differently, depending on the point of view.
We also noticed that the meaning behind “Be Part of the Energy” was slightly different than the public of Calgary’s perspective. The majority of people in Calgary may still believe that “Be Part of the Energy” means to be part of the Oil and Gas industry, but that’s not what Tourism Calgary wanted at all according to their description. One can interpret (based on the explanation provided) that the meaning behind the message of “Be Part of the Energy” had nothing to do with Oil and Gas.
When translating taglines or slogans, it is extremely important to bring in a professional opinion and be sure to be thorough when translating brand-related phrases. Trusting a company like Languages in Motion will turn out to be largely beneficial for you in the end.