April 09, 2010

Go Forth and Add!

As we have learned from the Chevy Nova, it is important to perform an accurate linguistic screen in all markets where you intend to launch your product. As you may have heard, the Nova was not such a big hit with Spanish-speakers. Translated literally, its name means “star” but when spoken it sounds like “no va” meaning “it doesn’t go.” Oops.

Recently, PepsiCo announced that it is teaming up with Eva Longoria Parker to promote their new campaign, titled “Yo Sumo.” The campaign, inspired by this decade’s census, is to encourage Hispanics, especially the younger generation, to not only be counted numerically, but also share their experiences of how they have contributed to making a difference in the American landscape. The campaign is truly inspiring as it motivates multicultural America to participate not just be another number.

The problem here is this: Yo Sumo is translated literally as “I count,” as in, “I add numbers,” or one plus one is two. This could be interpreted as a “math is fun” campaign. It could also evoke imagery of a certain Japanese style of wrestling.

Unfortunately, the subtle nuances and double entendre of “I count” are lost in translation. Would a better phrase have been “Yo Cuento” as the translational abilities offer a broader range of meaning? Or is leaving it “Yo Sumo” okay, so long as Pepsi imbues the desired meaning? I am left to wonder if a native Spanish-speaker contributed to the brainstorming and ultimate name creation of the campaign. If that’s the case, then perhaps instilling meaning is, indeed, the intention.

No matter what, thankfully, “Yo Sumo” definitely does not mean “it doesn’t go,” so hopefully the initiative will take off!

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