Does Your ‘American’ Brand Need Bilingual Labeling?

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May 12, 2004
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By Terry Soto

You ask if it’s necessary to have bilingual packaging when targeting Hispanics. Well consider, based on the latest 2002 Census estimates, that the Hispanic population has grown
to 38.8 million, a 10% increase since 2000. Of these, almost half are foreign-born and over half arrived in the past 12 years — and speak Spanish as their primary or only language.

But getting away from demographics to focus on marketing principles, if you’re trying to increase penetration and create access to your brand among this consumer segment, then
packaging becomes the most important advertisement your product can have at point of sale.

In addition to communicating the essentials — like ingredients, nutrition, UPC and size — bilingual packaging helps to introduce products that may be completely new to this
population. Remember that convenience products requiring assembly or any kind of preparation may be completely foreign to this consumer. So, preparation instructions become critical
when kids or other family members introduce unfamiliar products into non-English speaking households.

Kraft Foods discovered that Hispanics were buying their pizza brands assuming that it had to be defrosted before baking. Consumers were ending up with a less than perfect outcome
and there was little repeat purchase. Kraft now offers bilingual packaging on its pizza and other products.

Health and beauty categories have been providing multilingual packaging for years. In Europe and in Canada, many cosmetics and creams have instructions in four or five languages
because, in global markets, there is recognition that application and usage instructions are critical to product satisfaction and repeat purchase.

Another example is the home improvement and gardening industry, which has been progressive with its packaging. This is true of everything from power tools to seeds. NK Lawn and
Garden has a full line of flower and vegetable seeds conveniently packaged in Spanish.

So, if your goal is to achieve trial and satisfaction among this consumer base, as it is among your mainstream customers, then you may have a lot to gain from bilingual packaging.
But how do you go about designing bilingual packaging that communicates clearly to consumers of different cultures?

Utilize visuals to tell consumers what’s inside the package – Goya Foods also uses a product image effectively on its carton of “Yellow Rice.” The backside of the package
carries cooking directions in both English and Spanish. One side of the carton features the nutrition information in English; the other side appears in Spanish.

Tropicales cookies from Murray Biscuit uses printed and clear film to show the colorful products inside. Bilingual copy describes the flavor variety, nutrition information and
ingredients. In addition to see-through packaging or product images, use of graphic icons on your packaging are effective in showing consumers how to use the product.

Separate the languages – Copy for one language should be grouped together and appear in the same place from package to package, say package designers. One approach might
be to consider running one language horizontally and another language vertically across a package to achieve this separation. If you don’t have enough room to put everything you
want on your multilingual package, consider using an extended content label. This label can unpeel or fold out to reveal other languages.

Trans-creation, not translation – Ensure that you are using a translation agency or a marketing firm proficient in the language and culture, and research the use of the
language across dialects to ensure universal comprehension. Spanish translations must be generic, as Hispanics come from various countries with different idioms and dialects.
Don’t guess at spelling or word usage. Bad grammar, incorrect descriptions, etc. reflect poorly on your brand.

Marketing phrases can be difficult to translate. Look for an equivalent expression in the foreign language rather than translating. It’s the message you’re after, not the literal
translation of the text.

Emphasize your trademark – Recognized product or brand names should not be translated and should be emphasized on your packaging.

Strike a balance between legal and design – Understand the laws as you design your packaging. But don’t let legal requirements dictate your design. What corporate lawyers
like may displease your consumers.

Moderator’s Comment: Are concerns that bilingual packaging may alienate mainstream consumers justified? To optimize
sales, do packages need to be designed differently for different U.S. markets?

Terry Soto – Moderator

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2 Comments on "Does Your ‘American’ Brand Need Bilingual Labeling?"


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Kassandra Perry
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Kassandra Perry
15 years 11 months ago

It should be noted, in response to the gentleman with non-Quebec Canadian friends regarding mandated labels in Canada, that let us not compare apples to oranges. (Or rather, let’s not compare a Fuji with a Pink Lady.)

Canadian labeling laws for products distributed/sold in Quebec require that the French language copy be given equal prominence. And assuming that you do not have a specific SKU for Quebec (and I would think this also means controlling distribution of “non-Quebec” SKU to Quebec) — this means more copy – thus more paper/inserts and clutter/real-estate used.

In the U.S., this is not the case. There are specific category and product requirements mandated by various bodies — but none require equal prominence.

The author of the aforementioned comment makes a point that at one time or another we as consumers will experience having to go through various pieces of collateral/inserts to get to our language, but we should be clear that we are potentially comparing very different situations (French/Canada vs. Spanish/U.S.).

John Holcombe
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John Holcombe
15 years 6 months ago

Lots of opinions here; insightful to be sure, but opinions nonetheless. Does anyone know of any sources of hard data (other than the oft-quoted FMI study)? Or any good case studies of in-market success (i.e., an increase in sales as a result of going to bilingual packing)? While the customer is always right, the producer requires ROI.

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