Ooh La La: Quiche Gets Lost in Translation

04/04/2013 | Rebecca Twose

Is there anything more delicious than a little bite of quiche? Certainly, at a glamorous house party, the hosts know they are going to make a good impression on their guests if they lay out platters of the savoury treats. Unless that is, any of your guests are French and you’re serving Petite Bites.

No, this isn’t an April Fool. There has been an American advert in circulation for a couple of years where the promotional slogan has very much got lost in translation. Nancy’s, a frozen appetisers and entrées supplier, is a popular brand to turn to if you want party food. By purchasing its Petite Quiche Appetisers, you can provide your guests with 32 mini quiches in two flavours: quiche Lorraine and Florentine.

In English-speaking countries, there has long been a practice of associating French words with ideas of luxury, sophistication and elegance. So, Nancy’s is certainly not the first to add some French words to its advertising material and it won’t be the last. However, in this case, what is being said in French is certainly not a message of refined elegance.

Nancy’s Petite Quiche advert, which has appeared in magazines including a 2010 copy of Parade, features the slogan: “Petite bites. Big compliments.” Alongside it is an image of a woman merrily tucking into one of the snacks and laughing as she talks to a couple attending her soirée.

Unfortunately, the entire message is turned on its head once you learn what “petite bites” is slang for in France. According to numerous sources and Language Insight’s very own French translator, “petite bites” translates to “little dicks”. Team this with “Big Compliments” and you get a very misleading catchphrase. Throw in the woman laughing joyously with her friend as the man looks on, and the advert really does take on a whole new meaning.

Nancy’s has since removed the slogan from its advertising, website and packaging – but not before the advert had become a hit across France and other French-speaking countries. It’s safe to say that hosts and hostesses in these countries are not as keen to show off their sophistication with “petite bites”.

This is not the first case of a business’s advertising slogan getting lost in translation. In the 1970s when US firm Wang Computers decided to launch in the UK, it didn’t think to change its slogan as English was the main language spoken in both countries. Unfortunately, unbeknown to Wang’s marketing team, its slogan “Wang cares”, when said out loud, means something very different to a computer company that supports its customers.

Even big-name brands are not off the hook. When KFC opened in China, its translated catchphrase “Finger Lickin’ Good” did little to get people’s mouths watering, as in Chinese it means: “Eat your fingers off.” Meanwhile, Coors’ attempt to market itself in Spain with the slogan “Turn it Loose” may have misled people into thinking it was a pharmaceutical product. Sadly for Coors, the slogan translated as: “Suffer from diarrhoea.”

These examples show how important it is, not just to get your content translated correctly, but also to ensure it is localised. This means selecting a translator who is based in the same country as your target audience.

To an American working at Nancy’s, “Petite Bites” would simply mean little snacks and there’s no way they would have been familiar with the slogan if they didn’t spend time in France. Similarly, Wang Computers could not have known how hilarious its slogan would sound when said in the UK.

Language Insight provides translation services that are fully localised. This means that every translation we produce is done by a native speaker of your target language who is based in the same country as your audience. They are also expected to keep up to date with all of the latest changes in the vocabulary and any slang that is doing the rounds, so you don’t get tripped up.

Petite Bites might only have been a quick catchphrase, but Nancy’s may well wish it had taken the time to check out how it would go down in France.

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