Lost in translation

What does a 9kg metallic disc have to do with the reputation of Made in Italy? 

Yes, it’s a rhetoric question but I’m asking the Internet to take this seriously as I’ve just stumbled across a gaping hole in the quality of communication in one of Italy’s most important industries that is currently going through a profound resurgence, and feel compelled to bring it to everyone’s attention.

It all started as a simple translation of a press release for a prestigious textile manufacturer located on the outskirts of Milan, who this year has its first stand at the 58th edition of the Salone del Mobile, one of the world’s most important international showcases for creativity and a forum for industry professionals, with more than 370,000 attendees on average, every year, from 188 different nations.

That’s a big number and Italy’s reputation for excellence is on permanent display.  

And the flywheel?

According to Merriam-Webster, a flywheel is “a heavy wheel for opposing and moderating by its inertia any fluctuation of speed in the machinery with which it revolves. [It’s also] a similar wheel used for storing kinetic energy (as for motive power).”

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So why is it turning up online as a description on a number of Italy’s finest textile companies’ cushions? 

The answer: Google translate.

There are in principle, two types of cushions: one with a fabric border and one without. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Housewife Pillowcases have a sewn edge, which fits snugly to the pillow, and Oxford Pillowcases have a fabric border around the edge, usually around 5cm.

In Italian, the word for these borders is “Volano” so a pillow with four of them is called “Cuscino a 4 volani”. Put that into Google translate and you have a pillow complete with four metal objects that weighs more than the bed!

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Don’t laugh because Google is full of them and any SEO these companies thought they were rocking is, frankly, inexcusable. 

A thriving industry is being indexed for all the wrong reasons. 

As I tried to resolve this conundrum, I came across a worryingly high number of Italian companies with this error in their description pages and the only possible conclusion is that they all used Google translate and, noticing that their competitors used this terminology, assumed it must be correct.

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This is a social norm I’d like to eliminate. Not the flywheels, but the attention to detail in communication that trips up even the finest Italian companies. 

On behalf of those of us who care about Made in Italy, I urge you not to make this mistake with your international communication – make the effort to research your chosen markets and market yourselves accordingly.

Michael Walsh
Senior Corporate Digital Strategist specialized in designing and implementing effective web communication strategies and service portfolios for small, medium and global firms.
Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh

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