case study Creative Challenges in Translation:Launching R.L. Polk into China
People sometimes forget how important a role I was asked by our Polk client to participate in a meeting withtrust plays in their relationships. In the context their creative team managing the launch into China. I knew theof business, trust is paramount – something team’s creative director, whom I had worked with back whenI was rather dramatically reminded of during he was with a local advertising agency. Also present at themy experience helping launch automotive meeting were a writer and a designer from a creative firmresearch company R.L. Polk into China. that Polk had hired to help create the necessary marketing materials. The team showed me a bunch of brochuresThe challenges there were these: How do you and other print pieces they’d created, and the stuff reallybegin to build trust when your audience doesn’t looked great. Polk, like many companies, hoped to simplyknow who you are, already has a negative use as much of their existing marketing materials for theperception of the services you provide, and, “translation” as possible.in fact, can’t even pronounce your name? But there were a few problems. As we discussed the launch,Let me back up and first talk a little about who Polk’s creative director mentioned, in passing, that one of theR.L. Polk is. If you’re not in the automotive challenges they faced was the pronunciation – I should saybusiness, you may not know the name; the mispronunciation – of the company’s name. It seemed thatChinese certainly didn’t. R.L. Polk conducts the Chinese could not say “Polk” and instead said “Pork.”market research, generating a lot of the data that We all agreed that being called “R.L. Pork” was not good forauto companies and others use to understand business. Incredibly to me, the team admitted that no one atconsumer buying patterns. At the time, the the company had ever thought to ask their translation suppliercompany had no presence in China and there for any ideas or solutions to this core problem of identity.was little, if any, knowledge of or experience with At this time, the team also told me that the idea of a “private”their products and services amongst Chinese company doing “research” was unheard of in China. In China,businesses and consumers. “market research” was performed by the government and, as you might imagine, it was not considered an activity that the average Chinese person wanted to participate in.
So they had some serious challenges to overcome to gain As I listened to the ideas being exchanged, I learned that Polkmarket acceptance. had a long history to be proud of and had, in fact, pioneered many research and market analysis tools in use today.As we looked at the English pieces the team wanted touse as the basis for translation into Chinese, it became A few days later the client contacted me to tell me they wantedclear the materials spoke to an audience who had a strong to meet with the complete creative team again and to bringunderstanding of who Polk was and what the company any ideas I might have to that meeting. Fortunately for me Ioffered. The language used was quite informal and was also good friends with the designer of the creative firmcontained expressions that would not translate well or be that they had hired to design the launch materials. So beforeunderstood by their Chinese audience. I left the meeting the meeting we spoke on the phone about how to positionconvinced that if we followed the client’s direction and Polk in China. Since no one in China knew who R.L. Polk was,“translated” these materials, their launch would be severely I suggested that we set some basic goals for the launch.compromised. Translating marketing messages is one of the What did we want to accomplish? I thought the first thingmore challenging translation activities and can easily lead we needed to do was help the audience understand whatto many of those well publicized mistranslations, something Polk does and work to earn their trust. I proposed that theI had no interest in participating in or being remembered for. marketing materials feature a time line from Polk’s inceptionThe next day I told the client we were uncomfortable with to the present, using breakthroughs in market research andtranslating any of their existing materials and that I thought analysis that Polk had pioneered as milestones to share theirthey needed a brand-new approach. Surprisingly, they were history with their audience and begin to gain trust. I likedgrateful for my opinion and we discussed how to move this idea because I thought it would also help the companyforward. Since I didn’t have a solution right then and there, address the local mistrust of anything to do with “marketI could only suggest that we gather the rest of the creative research” in general. The creative firm’s designer agreedteam together and try to talk through the problems. and thought the time line idea could work well.With the team assembled, it occurred to me that our first At the meeting with the client and the full creative team, theproblem was that we had never clearly defined our goals designer and I presented the time line proposal together.or objectives beyond “translating marketing materials into We explained the objective of the launch should be to defineChinese for the launch into China.” Also, I couldn’t get the a clear, positive perception of what Polk does and whyproblem of the Chinese mispronunciation of the company’s the company is trustworthy. Then a simple solution for thename out of my head. While my role was to provide direction mispronunciation problem popped into my head: Let’s providein support of the translation process, by being invited to a phonetic translation in the text to help the audience learnparticipate at the beginning of the creative process I was how to pronounce R.L. Polk correctly, since changing theactually now part of the creative process itself. This fact name was not an option. Finally, I told the writer to writeallowed me to think outside of the “translation” box. straightforward headlines and body copy that might be a little
less clever – void of any double meanings – but clearerand more businesslike in tone. We finally had a directionthat could work.By first addressing the issue of trust, we helped ensurethat the launch of the R.L. Polk brand into China was asuccess. Time has proven that Polk correctly understoodhow important the Chinese market would be, and todaythey continue to grow their business there. The launchwas a success because we identified the root challengesthe brand would face and produced solutions to meet thosechallenges. By participating in the creative process, I wasable to provide guidance that helped develop a marketingstrategy that improved the translatability of the English text.As a result, no meaning was lost in the translation and allideas were effectively communicated in a voice that wasproperly aligned with the audience. While it’s my job, thisproject was also one of the more enjoyable and rewardingwork experiences I’ve had. I can’t thank the team at Polkenough for allowing me to participate, and I’m ready forthe next such opportunity in the future.Rick Woyde has worked in the translation industry for over 25 years.Rick was previously the President & CEO of Detroit TranslationBureau, a leading translation supplier to the automotive industry.Rick has been an invited speaker at almost every translationindustry conference, including the ATA, Localization World,LISA and IMTT and has published articles for almost everylanguage publication. Rick chaired the SAE J2450 TranslationQuality Metric committee from 2000 -2005. In 2005, Rick wasawarded the “Outstanding Contributions Award” from the SAE.You can view his full profile on LinkedIn and he can be contactedat firstname.lastname@example.org West 7th Street, Suite 120Royal Oak, MI 48067Ph: 248-246-0475, Fax: 248-282-0433Visit our website at www.languageartsandscience.comfor more true stories and information on how to get themost from your translation needs!