Can someone please explain this to me: brands and slogans that totally loose their edge when introduced into Arab markets.

Here are three examples:


I bought this shaving cream the other day. The tagline/product identifier say “Cool Kick” in English. The Arabic translates into “Cool Touch”. Oh how soft and nice!

Arab men can’t take a kick.. They can only handle a touch..


One of my favorites: The “For Dummies” series in Arabic. Clearly an Arab person can never be a dummy. No, no. At “worst” he/she is a “beginner”. So the whole “For Dummies” brand, which is funny, becomes the boring “For Beginners”. Hmmm.

And now my favorite..


The popular weight loss show “The Biggest Loser”. I mean how do you translate this into Arabic?

Brilliant idea: let’s call it “The Biggest Winner”..

What?? The whole point is to LOSE wait. But no.. let’s reverse the whole meaning!

Arab politeness? Respect? Oversensitivity? Swollen ego?

What is going on here?




11 responses to “Brands in translation: Are Arab consumers oversensitive wimps?”

  1. Ameen Avatar

    Interesting point Ahmad. I thought about it before, and the only conclusion I came up with is that the cultural guidelines for branding and advertising in this region were developed based on cliches formed by the first western branding professionals who came here, which later on were adopted as is by local brand strategists (You sure do know how westerners have this idea that we are overly sensitive about EVERYTHING). I remember the first “advice” I got (from a friend of mine who spent long years working the field in Dubai) on designing for the gulf: “Never show feet”, even though I was working on an educational guidebook for teachers :) And yes, my friend is a Jordanian. I’m afraid that such guidelines are now rooted deep enough no-one dares rethink them.

  2. Zaid A. Avatar
    Zaid A.

    I’ve always been amazed at the ‘biggest loser’ show translation since they totally screwed the branding, it doesn’t even make sense to be ‘the biggest winner’, if ‘biggest’ refers to weight now then the winner isn’t the biggest anymore, only in Arabia!

  3. Humeid Avatar

    Ameen, your Orientalist take on this is certainly valid to an extent. But our own culture of “over-respect” and our “wounded-yet-swollen-ego” is also at play here i think..

    Zeid: Maybe we can make show for people who want to gain weight!

  4. Haitham Avatar


    Some of those slogans are slangs! And I can not see what’s the problem with the Arabic ones! I believe that as long as they are aired in the Arab world, it is very normal for the ads to comply with the Arab culture!

    Btw some of the Jordanian Ads, i.e. that wifi internet company (forgot its name) have ads that say: Wad3ak zinon, 3ajaktnee, fatalt rasi and other Jordanian slangs!


    It does make sense on my side, you are winning when your health improve! So calling it “Alrab7 alakbar” is quit a smart move, specially that for Arabs, being overweight is a sign of good health, which is not the case at all!

  5. Humeid Avatar

    Haitham I don’t get it? What slang? The three examples I am talking about are Fus7a.

    Anyway, you seem to be saying that Arab culture requires those changes. So words like “loser”, “dummy” and “kick” are not acceptable. Mashi. I woul like to understand why they are not acceptable. That’s all.

  6. Haitham Avatar

    Cool kick! I think it does not translate to shalo6 bard in Arabic! It means a cool start for your day! This is what I mean by slang! I talked about Loser, and regarding the dummies, what would you call it? Visual basic la elteos aw ela’3bea2! They can call it that way, but they will not make a single penny I’d say! I can not force the society to accept that, and we are not the only ones like this, we might be oversensitive, but still, I can not see what’s the problem with the Arab expectations in this regard! May be we should ask social sciences Professors for why we do not find it acceptable!

    I am just giving my opinion here!

  7. Humeid Avatar

    Your opinion is wellmappreciated Haitham. Yes you have to take the culture of the target market intomconsideration. But communicator need to pushnthe limits a bit more. I think that calling the weight loss show alkhaser alakbar would have been cool and not offending. People are clever and theynwill understand that we are talking about the biggest weight loser.

    As for dummies, it is a bit more difficult. You know the Jordanian slang word ghasheem. I think something like that is acceptable. We are not saying lil aghbiyaa, but ghasheem is someone who is clueless about a subject, but not stupid.

    As for nivea I propose something like ‘alwawjah albaridah’ or ‘alsadmah albaridah’. I mean this thing is for men. Give them something manly and a bit edgy like a kick. Why not.

    But what I see is that our marketers are just playing too safe and killing the communication in the process.

  8. Amjad Avatar

    it is not a question of acceptability to a specific culture. culture is man made. we construct it as we communicate it. we always speak of the western and the middle easter cultures but we fail to grasp that our culture is not very different from that of the western culture 200 years ago (we are the same species after all). we are basically lagging behind thats all, why? it could be because we let our society get hijacked by the ignorant and the stupid in the name of religion. who is lecturing our people in mosques today? the bright? the smart? i bet 90% of the ppl in mosques have higher IQs than their imams. how could this happen! that is a different story.

    to me it’s a question of competence. are these marketers competent or not. well i don’t know, there is probably a dozen of arguments for and against them. i don’t think they are very competent tho. i might be wrong.

  9. بشار حميض Avatar
    بشار حميض

    نقاش مهم يدور هنا. وأنا أتفق مع القول بأن هناك مشكلة فيما يتعلمه الغربيون في الدروس التحضيرية التي تقدم لهم عن العرب قبل حضورهم للعمل إلى البلدان العربية. وقد اطلعت سابقا على بعض المناهج المستخدمة في هذه الحصص في ألمانيا سابقا وكانت فكرتي هي أنها يجب أن تكون منفتحة أكثر على التغيرات التي تحصل في العالم العربي اوأن تأخذ الاختلافات في العالم العربي بعين الاعتبار، فما يعد مرفوضا في فضاء اجتماعي عربي معين يمكن أن يكون مقبولا في فضاء عربي آخر..

    ما طرحه هيثم عن الإعلانات العربية مهم، ويبدو أننا أكثر جرأة عندما تكون المادة أو الخدمة التي نقدمها مبتكرة محليا وغير خاضعة لسلطة علامة تجارية عالمية كبيرة مثل نيفياأو غيرها.
    فعلى مستوى البنوك في الإمارات مثلا تجد أن بنك أبوظبي التجاري اشتغل مؤخرا على حملة إعلامية ناجحة جدا في مخاطبة العرب، بينما نجد بنكا مثل إتش إس بي سي فاشلا تمامافي ذلك، لأن النص الإنجليزي بقي هو المرجع ، ما يعيق الإبداع في الدعاية.
    من تجربتي أجد أن التخلص من سلطة النص الأصلي هي أمر أساسي لنجاح الترجمة

  10. Adnan Avatar

    Probably it’s the same reason that some people are ok with saying the F word or mention the names of some body parts in English librally but not the same in Arabic. I am personally ok with that and prefer to keep more dignified Arabic language.. is this too much to ask?!

    I am interested to see your Arabic translation for “Cool Kick” though :) somethings just cannot be translated I guess

  11. hussein Avatar

    @ بشار حميض
    أوافقك الرأي تماما كما أوافق رأي أكثر المعلقين هنا
    لكن هناك جانب آخر للموضوع هو أنه هناك بعض الإختلاف في العامية بين دولة وأخرى في العالم العربي