Occasionally, we will get questions about product packaging from clients who are moving to new language markets.  Granted, this can be tricky territory and if you don’t think it is, search for translation errors online and see how many of them are related to product packaging.

I wanted to take some time today to put together some considerations for the translation of product packaging.  The goal of this article is to touch on the topic, but this is by no means, a comprehensive review of the topic.  If you are looking for something like that, please let us know and we can walk you through the process and specifics depending on the market you are looking at.

In the United States, we are frequently asked about bilingual or trilingual packaging that includes English, Spanish, and/or French Canadian.  Depending on the channel in which the product will be sold, the retailer might have very specific requirements. Usually, they are very open to sharing these requirements and we can help with that as well. Here are some that we see often.

Size of Text: Sometimes it is required that French Canadian be the same size as the English.  Some retailers are appreciative of the difficulty to keep all the languages the same size and they recommend different sizes for the translations.

Measurements:  We see a lot of variety in this.  Many clients and retailers don’t require the use of metric units for other languages, but some do.  This is something to consider.

Order of Languages:  Sometimes a retailer will tell you what language to put first.  For example, I recently saw a retailer recommend English on top, French Canadian second and Spanish third.

Use of Icons:  Where possible, try to use commonly accepted icons to convey meaning.

Use of different ethnic backgrounds in packaging: Depending on the packaging, it’s good to consider representing the ethnicity of your target markets your packaging.

Use of Machine Translation:  This is something that I think some companies forget or just don’t know about.  I know a lot of packaging gets rejected by retailers, or worse, by consumers, because people try to use machine translations.  This can be misunderstood.  They are not rejected because of a technicality or breach of procedure. They are rejected because they are inaccurate.  I like the commonly used analogy demonstrated in the form of a question to those who use machine translation for their marketing copy or someone in the warehouse for a translation. “Would you just let anyone or anything write you English marketing copy?”  This question seems to demonstrate the point well.   The answer is always “No.”  Then they usually say, something about putting a massive amount of effort into our English marketing copy, the bullet points, the messaging, the tone, etc.  That usually makes the point well.  However, occasionally someone will still express a sliver of apathy for the translated version, but that apathy is usually a thin resistance to the effort needed in getting the messaging right.  I don’t think it’s an apathy to they non-English consumer.  I just think sometimes marketing teams are bombarded with demands and pressures and they naturally must prioritize the demands.   I have been in their shoes.  I know what it is like and I know those pressures.  Without trying to sound “preachy”, I have found that an ounce of prevention in translations is worth a pound of cure.  Just ask those people who have been burned by a translation error.

As I mentioned, this is not a comprehensive list of what needs to be considered for translated packaging, but we can help you with any additional questions you might have.