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Six important things about packaging or label translation you probably don’t realise

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If you are considering exporting your product, you have probably already looked into whether or not it meets the regulatory requirements of your target country. However, one aspect that sometimes gets overlooked in the early stages of export planning is whether or not your packaging or label translation meets the necessary criteria too. The laws governing what you must include on packaging can vary wildly, so here are six things you need to keep in mind if you’re serious about making your product a success overseas.

The legislation that covers your product packaging or label can vary

In the UK, the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy offers guidance for what companies need to include on product labelling, but you need to consider that different territories can have their own regulations, especially for specific categories such as food and drink, precious metals, electronics and textiles.

From the display of nutritional information to the country of origin, make sure you’re absolutely clear about what information is mandatory and how it needs to be presented, such as the format of text and units. While the UK currently adheres to EU legislation (for example, many products in the EU must be CE marked), it is essential to do your research on what’s required if you’re exporting to any countries beyond those 27.

Food labels must be easily understood by your target country’s consumer

It’s the law – in the EU at least. Not only does that mean your packaging needs to be properly translated (into more than one language if necessary), but any mandatory information must be legible in a minimum font size, including allergen information on pre-packed food.

You can opt to create packaging that incorporates all the languages you need or you can choose to print stickers with the necessary information to be placed on your goods before they are exported, but doing nothing is not an option.

Your ingredients might not even be allowed

Hopefully you will have already checked, but it’s important to point out that there are different rules that govern ingredients across markets – some chemicals are governed by international convention while others are restricted by territory. The EU’s own rules on banned or restricted substances are some of the strictest in the world, but just because you’re in compliance with that standard it does not mean you’re home free.

Before going ahead with targeting your export strategy to a specific country, make sure your product doesn’t contain anything that would fall foul of the compliance authorities there.

Some countries have specific rules on marketing messages

While marketing messages are not subject to any standardised rules internationally, there are still some things you need to consider. In the UK, you cannot make any misleading claims about your product’s quantity or size, price, ingredients, origin, endorsements or what it can do.

This is reflected in EU law as well, along with rules for language that implies a heightened level of quality which bears no relationship to the actual production process. Using words like ‘natural,’ ‘traditional’ or ‘artisanal’ can land you in hot water if you can’t actually back them up, as can pictures of implied ingredients where there is little or no actual content in your product.

You will also need to consider the same things when translating your strap line and any other key messages that are relevant to your brand.

Culture can make a massive difference

Red is lucky in China. In Ireland and Middle East it’s green. In Thailand, yellow is the lucky royal colour and in India, saffron-orange is considered sacred. On the other hand, white is the Chinese colour of death, whereas in Brazil it’s purple. Black is even considered evil in countries such as Nigeria and Tibet.

This is an over-simplified way of saying that every aspect of your packaging needs to be checked and double-checked to make sure you’re not trampling the cultural norms of your chosen country. This can range from the font colour and background to religious restrictions or historical references.

Words don’t always mean what you think

Localising your packaging means being keenly aware of how it will be received in your chosen country and culture and adapting it accordingly. One of the most popular isotonic drinks on the Japanese market is Pocari Sweat. The name was chosen by the company to reflect the benefits of replacing lost electrolytes after exercise, and while it’s tremendously popular in parts of Asia and the Middle East, it’s never been a smash-hit in English-speaking countries. Can’t think why.

History is littered with exporters that didn’t properly think their translations through. Machine translations such as Google Translate offer passable interpretations of language to aid understanding, but should in no way be relied on for customer-facing products.

You are best served by using an in-country localisation expert:  a translator who intimately understands the country, language and culture and is capable of ensuring the new language reflects the same level of nuance while retaining the marketing impact you need to drive sales.

Finally, you should run your packaging by an in-country compliance expert. Similar to the translator, these are people with a comprehensive knowledge of that country’s legislation and who are able to advise on whether your packaging has achieved absolute compliance.

If you would like to learn more about how our translation services can help you prepare for exporting, get in touch with one of our project managers today.