Lost In Translation

I received marketing collateral for an International trade show, held in Shanghai, China. The show appears to be hosted by a professional company with experience coordinating International events. However, a few humorous translation issues caught my eye…

Rich People. There are several mentions of Rich People in the brochure, as if they are a specific business or class of people. For example, one sentence reads, “China now hosts some of the world’s best companies and Rich People”. Another reads, “We propose China’s Richest People to experience the show.” I don’t mind grammatical errors from non-native speakers as much as I mind obvious translation errors. You can’t credibly market yourself and your show as an International event if you don’t fully understand the overall culture of the international business community. The brochure also breaks down the types of show attendees, with an official category titled “Business Tycoons”, described as “wealthy people who buy the product”. While you may be trying to attract “rich people” and “business tycoons”, you generally don’t want to put those explicit words on your official marketing material. Some developed countries try to reduce the appearance of “rich people”, so making them an official class at your event sends the wrong message.

Pricing in the CNY. Does anyone actually know what a CNY is, and how much it’s worth? The event is billed as an International show, and the marketing pieces are in English, yet the organizers include all the pricing information in the Chinese national currency. Why not use a more universal currency, such as the USD or Euro? You could even get away with using the British pound or the Japanese yen, but not the Chinese national currency. These prices come out to be over CNY 750,000… but how much is it really going to cost? You don’t want to make your busy “Business Tycoons” waste time trying to convert your currency into a more understandable format. This pricing scheme implies a lack of understanding of the business community that you’re trying to reach, a huge no-no in Marketing 101. Again, you gotta know your customers!

Vague descriptions. In an attempt to be clever by matching categories to the theme, the show organizers created categories to describe different levels of advertising available to exhibitors and sponsors. Similar to a “Lords and Ladies, Princes and Princesses, Kings and Queens” hierarchy, the advertising is more expensive and includes more features at each level. However, I was confused by the two upper levels titled, “Unreachable” and “Unreachable 2”. Wait… there are TWO Unreachable levels of advertising? That doesn’t make much sense. Why would you name the highest level the “mostest” of the “most” level directly below? Further, the added benefit of the highest “Unreachable” category is “a Giant Advertisement”. Umm… ok, how big is “giant”? And why is that “Giant Advertisement” better than whatever other vaguely-sized advertisements are available at the other levels? How do I know that this “Giant Advertisement” is proportionately larger in size for the money I’m paying? Again, if you’re targeting wealthy “Business Tycoons”, it’s likely that these people are very busy getting wealthy. They don’t have time to try to figure out if the “Giant Advertisement” is worth the money. They need short, clear information that tells them the bottom line on the value you provide.

Visually, the marketing piece for the Shanghai show is right on the mark. Contextually, the piece falls short. The show organizers need to more closely align the content to their target market, with fewer indications of the culture of the host country. To do business in the international arena, you have to play by the international rules by making your content, products, and procedures accessible to the world community. A few minor tweaks and this piece would garner respect and interest from its’ target market of “Rich People” and “Business Tycoons.”

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