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Frank Remarks: Does Your Web Site Sprechen Sie Deutsche, Français, Español, Chinese, Japanese, and More?

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  1. Speak English, Why Don'tcha?
  2. Globalizing Your Web Site
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Translation complications can lead to hilarious results. Or no results. If your e-business intends to reach a global market, it's time you started thinking globally, says Frank Fiore.
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On a trip to Australia several years ago, we were driving through downtown Sydney looking for a place to park. We knew our destination, a well-recommended seafood restaurant serving one of my favorite dishes—abalone. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of new construction going on in the area, and we were continually confronted with "No Parking" signs. Site after site admonished us with No Parking, No Parking, No Parking—until we reached the end of the street we were looking to park on and saw a sign that read "Absolutely No Parking."

Though Aussies and Americans speak the same language, we wondered if we were misunderstanding something, and figured the other signs were just suggestions. We considered parking next to the No Parking signs but then thought better of it. After all, cultural differences have created many an embarrassing situation for tourists—and businesses too.

Here are some examples.

Speak English, Why Don'tcha?

You've probably heard the story (whether true or just a business myth) about the marketing faux pas General Motors made when they introduced the Chevrolet Nova in South America. GM was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go." After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

There were many other marketing mistakes performed by other U.S. companies due to misunderstandings with the local language. Take for example McDonald's and Coca-Cola. You might think that these two companies, with their far-flung international experience, would not find themselves committing marketing hara-kiri—but you'd be mistaken. When McDonald's launched its popular Big Mac Attack ads in Canada as well as the U.S., there arose one problem. In Canada, "Big Mac" is slang for "large breasts." Not an image McDonald's wanted to project for their sandwich. And when the name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la by local marketers, the Coke folks didn't discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax," depending on the dialect. Not very thirst-quenching, right?

And one of my favorite marketing faux pas is from chicken-man Frank Perdue. His well-known slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in a Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."

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