Lost in Translation
Using multiple languages on one package definitely has its pluses and minuses. The goal is not only to sell the toys, but also to educate consumers — they need to know what the product is made of and exactly how it works. Many companies try to keep the copy on the boxes simple. Then, there is less confusion and ample room for multiple languages. The key is to hire a reputable translation company.
“We pay a translator to create the basic text using simple words,” said Stephen Bergquist, president of fetish-focused company Spartacus Enterprises. “Then, some of our distributors in Europe actually take the time to give us the OK if the text makes sense for the product.”
Topco relies not only on its translation company, but also its president and multilingual employees to confirm the accuracy of the translations.
“Scott Tucker, CEO of Topco Sales, is a pretty amazing man who speaks many languages, so he always double checks the translations,” said Annalee Wooster, copywriter for Topco. “We have employees that speak French, Spanish and Russian here as well, so they all check the translations as the art is routing.”
There are many do’s and don’ts in multilingual packaging. You have to use the correct words for each native country (or countries) and fit all the legal information on the box. Extensive messages and overabundant copy can get sticky. It’s best to give the name of the product, what materials it’s made of, and a few key selling points. Too much information also can backfire, and potentially will lose what you’re trying to convey. It doesn’t matter how appealing the packaging is if you can’t reach your foreign audiences with words.
High-end product manufacturer LELO uses a simple, classy style of packaging for its line of luxury toys, taking away the confusion of wordy packaging.
“If you take a look at a LELO box, you will see that we are like the Apple of the pleasure toy industry,” said Shaye Saldana, sales and marketing manager for the company. “We are basic on the box, making it easier to deal with promo copy, slogans, et cetera.”
And what’s sexy or appealing can vary from country to country. Europeans have a much different sense of sexuality than Americans.
“The majority of sexy tag lines we use on English packaging use sexual innuendo, rather than biological or factual words. Innuendos definitely don’t translate well,” says Topco’s Wooster. “We realize that different things are considered sexy in different cultures, so rather than potentially insulting anyone, we just keep it simple and exclude tag lines in the translated sections.”
German lubricant manufacturer Pjur uses the same message and images around the world — they see no reason to differentiate the use of language or visuals.
“Our slogan ‘elements of love’ does not need to be changed no matter where Pjur is distributed,” says Pjur head of marketing Andrea Giebel. “Pjur is a modern, premium brand that represents lifestyle by using a collection of images evoking emotions to which everyone can relate. The images are sexy, cheeky and also stimulating.”
Another important element to successful packaging text is to avoid slang — you never know what your box will really end up saying. Topco Sales once distributed a butt plug packaged with text that roughly translated to “donkey socket” in Russian. Spartacus has had a problem differentiating between European Spanish and American Spanish — the meaning of the same word can be used differently in both languages.
Chad Braverman, director of product development and licensing for Doc Johnson, believes in a simplistic, yet universal approach with very little technical jargon.
“We only try to highlight the main selling points of an item,” Braverman said. “We don't have much space and try our best to get the important information on there first.”
Is One Box Enough for All of Us?
Pjur offers 10 languages on the labeling of its products, including German, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Russian, Italian and Swedish. This is double what most manufacturers use. Its products can literally be sold anywhere in the world.
“It is a special service for our international clients,” Giebel said. “We serve more than 50 countries worldwide with our products and assist most of our clients with helpful product information in their mother languages.”
The European Union requires five languages to be used on each product. German sex product manufacturer FunFactory, which also has offices based in the U.S., is well versed in designing multilingual packaging.
“In Europe there are so many languages and it is a challenge to communicate your kind of product and service to all these different countries you sell to or you intend to sell to,” said Rudy Kottbauer, head of marketing, sales and customer relations. This gives the company a lead advantage being able to reach a broader range of companies with greater accuracy, and has helped the company achieve its goal of conquering U.S. and worldwide sales.
“The world gets smaller and smaller and you have to do business outside the borders,” Kottbauer said. “You need to be able to make your sales points to all your customers, and if they speak different languages you need to put them on the packaging.”
With multiple boxes, mistakes can occur. FunFactory once mistakenly sent French catalogues to Mexico, and imagine how costly — literally and figuratively — that would have been had they accidentally sent the wrong product. It can be not only confusing, but also extremely costly to print multiple versions of the same boxes. Very few companies do this. Topco Sales offers a private label and has instructed clients to ask the company to print the boxes only in English and the native language of the country the toy is being sold in.
“It leaves us more room to elaborate on the selling features, making the boxes and product a little sexier,” says Topco’s Wooster.
The Big Pay Off
Many companies are seeing a return on their multilingual packaging investments.
“By adding multilingual packaging we are already seeing an increase with sales,” Spartacus’ Bergquist said. “Having just the basic information in different languages gives the end consumer just a little comfort and connection with our product, thus increasing the odds he or she will buy our product.”
By having multiple languages and being successful at pulling it off, adult toy and novelty manufacturers can cash in abroad and in their own backyard.