How do you translate an ad concept?

Brands and agencies have a track record of stumbling their way through ads for foreign markets. We speak to W+K Amsterdam MD Blake Harrop and ECD Eric Quennoy about getting humour right and why it’s not a case of translating words but ideas

When it comes to poorly translated ads, a quick nose around Google will pull up reams of culprits. Coors, Ford and Schweppes are all hailed as classic cases. In the Chinese market alone, Mercedes-Benz, KFC, Pepsi have let embarrassing duds slip through the cracks.

Then you have the foolhardy examples of ad ideas that use accurate language, but are so culturally insensitive or outwardly offensive (see Dolce & Gabbana’s recent gaffe) that an innocent mistranslation would probably offer a welcome distraction.

The main causes behind these crudely communicated ad concepts seem to come down to two reasons. Reason one being oversight, reason two – which is often a factor in reason one – being arrogance. How hard can translating taglines or entire campaign concepts for foreign markets really be?