Zara's #EpicFail in Malaysia Shows Why Translation Does Not Equal Localization

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At a time when globalization equals localization, even the largest companies can face an epic fail with content localization. When popular Spanish clothing retailer Zara recently announced that they were launching a Malaysian version of their online store, there was much buzz and excitement among Malaysian shoppers.

Zara released English ads on popular social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram to welcome fans to their new site. The ads were populated with hashtags like #dearmalaysia and #shoponline.

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Screenshots (L-R): Zara's ads on Facebook and Instagram

But on launch date, Zara hit a marketing snafu.

As online shoppers began to throng their new site, confusion ensues. Clicking into the site takes them to a site in Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia to locals).

Comments began to flood Zara's social media accounts for several reasons, but one that really stood out from Malaysian fans was, "Why is the site in Malay?"

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Screenshot from zara.com/my

Why was this an epic fail, though?

If the national language of Malaysia is Malay, perhaps the company was - at best - attempting to localize its content.

But unfortunately, this is where most global brands and companies fail when it comes to localization in Asia.

All the previous marketing that was done to announce Zara's new store was primarily in English. So why was the site in Malay?

Our assumption: At some point, someone (perhaps a decision maker within Zara's global marketing team) had made the decision to launch the site in Malay because it is Malaysia's national language.

(Insert Malaysians facepalming themselves right now).

While Malay is the national language and is widely spoken in Malaysia, Zara’s local fans are young and urban. This means they tend to speak English as their first language.

For Malaysians who speak Malay, the Zara website is plain out of context. Zara might have used the service of an auto-translator on their site which means the language is unnatural to the human reader.

To make things a little more confusing, the site uses traditional Malay spelling in some instances: the Malay word "Baharu" is an older spelling of "Baru", which means "new".

The inconsistency caused a lot of confusion among visitors, particularly on Zara's ads and social media accounts.

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Many went on to express anger and frustration at the pre-selected language used throughout the site, but even more so at the inability (or the sheer effort it takes) to change the language settings.

Zara's customer support team tried to assist confused visitors but one commenter said the settings were "obscured".

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Why does this matter to global brands attempting to localize?

When Zara failed to connect with their intended audience with the right message and language, shoppers drop off along the funnel. It affects sales. Could Zara have scored even bigger sales if they had just delivered their content right? We think it's very likely.

Here’s what Zara could’ve done right – and what you can learn from it

1. Correct inconsistencies between ads/marketing and landing pages

Inconsistencies between your advertising, marketing and your landing page could make or break your campaign. Zara created English ads on Facebook and Instagram, but their landing page that was in Malay. This slip up could mean a dip in sales at the peak period of your campaign.

3. Settings (like language options) should be prominent

Adding a clear "language option" could save your sales. In a multilingual country like Malaysia, you need multiple language options - including Malay, English, and Simplified Chinese. More importantly, the language option should be easy to spot on the website.

2. Study your target audience diligently

With localization, one shouldn't assume that everything will work perfectly if you use the local language.

Unfortunately, that is a gross (and costly!) generalization.

The Asian demographic is unique. Depending on your product or service, you’ll need to further refine your audience down to age, education level, languages, purchasing habits, and more.

As a global brand, Zara failed to acquire localization support with their online point-of-sale (their website).

So what's the best way to overcome this?

Talk to your fans or ask a content localization expert. They can help define your target market and ensure crystal clear messaging in your campaigns.