Taking It Literally

Keds is a classic brand known worldwide. It’s been around for exactly one hundred years, having been founded in 1916, and its original shoe design was the first mass-marketed canvas-top sneaker (see photo above). But their slogans in French could use a little work. Keds shoe boxes have these English-language phrases with corresponding French translations:

Take on the world ⇒ Conquérir le monde

Fresh, fun sneakers ⇒ Des chaussures amusantes et rafraîchissantes

These are literal translations of the English taglines that don’t sound good in French. While “take on the world” maybe sounds a bit overstated for wearing a pair of sneakers, “conquérir le monde” is taking things more into Lex Luthor territory. “Taking on” the world isn’t quite the same as “conquering it.” It’s more about meeting a challenge, handling whatever the world might throw at you. The second slogan is approaching the weird. While in English, a shoe can be “fun,” it’s kind of unusual for a “chaussure” to be “amusante” in French. Does it sing and dance? Do a comedy routine? The English word “fresh” is associated with the idea of the sneakers being new and different (plus it alliterates with “fun”). But “rafraîchissantes” means “refreshing” and is more typically used to describe a beverage than a pair of shoes.

Are these taglines terrible? No. But using a slogan that’s not idiomatic hurts a company’s image (even if you’ve already purchased the shoes). It creates the impression that the company doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Consumers feel that if a brand doesn’t know their language, it doesn’t know them. And especially in this day and age, when brands focus on their social media presence and pull out all the stops to create the feeling of a personal relationship with their customers, it’s detrimental to look as if you are leaving French speakers out in the cold.