Digital MarketingStrategiesTaco Bell Japan Entry Shows Importance of Localization

Taco Bell Japan Entry Shows Importance of Localization

Taco Bell's April launch in Japan was a major brand fail and reinforced the importance of ensuring a localized approach when entering new markets across the Asia Pacific region.

Translation is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to localizing your business for an Asia roll out. Taco Bell recently proved how easy it is to make common translation mistakes on localized websites when the brand relaunched in Japan  after an absence of three decades.

The California-based Tex-Mex eatery first tried to break into the Japanese market in the ’80s but failed to take off at the time. Now, with KFC and Pizza Hut bringing in huge revenues in China, Taco Bell owners Yum! Brands deemed the time was right for a return.

They planned the menu, studied locations and got the press on board. It looked like every little detail had been accounted for, but there was one glaring omission. The “localized” website had been poorly – and hilariously – translated. 

The site was quickly taken down, but one surprised visitor, a multilingual communications professional named Tomoyuki Akiyama, took a series of screenshots that he then tweeted about.  

Some of the blunders he pointed out included “cheesy chips” being translated into “low-quality chips”. In a section providing information on ingredient sources, the phrase “We’ve got nothing to hide” somehow became “What did we bring here to hide?” A section on the company history was attempting to say “A legacy is born,” but the katakana used was for the English term “legacy” as it pertains to computing systems. The phrase was therefore translated to something along the lines of “An obsolete program is born.” 

Perhaps the best of all, however, was the translation of the Beef Crunchwrap Supreme, which was turned into “Supreme Court Beef”. 

Akiyami suggested that the entire website looked like it had been put through Google Translate.

Added to this was the Taco Bell Japanese Twitter account, which came under fire for being predominantly in English.

Taco Bell isn’t the only brand to make a blunder when taking a brand message into Asia.

Another infamous mistranslation occurred when KFC first launched in China and the slogan “Finger lickin’ good” was changed into the less appetising “You’ll eat your fingers off”.

Similarly, Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi generation’” reportedly became “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” in Taiwan.

Unfortunately for brand fail connoisseurs, the now legendary story of Coca-Cola mistranslating their name into “Bite the wax tadpole’” is only partially true. Local shopkeepers may have used characters to phonetically reproduce the name “ko-ka-ko-la” without caring what they actually meant, but Coke itself took a bit more care.

It’s not only translations that need to be kept in mind when brands move into Asia. Issues of cultural awareness often arise as well. Proctor and Gamble re-used a TV ad that had been successful in Europe when marketing a product in Japan. The ad showed a husband entering a bathroom while his wife was bathing and touching her on the shoulder. In Japan this was considered an invasion of privacy and in very poor taste.

We’re living in an increasingly connected and globalized world, but linguistic and cultural differences still remain. When doing business across international borders, it’s essential to invest in good quality translation in order to localize thoroughly and take cultural differences into account. Otherwise you could become a talking point for all the wrong reasons.

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