Into the Mouth of the Wolf

Into the Mouth of the Wolf

Some people will have woken up this morning without much enthusiasm for the start of the week. Monday isn’t everyone’s favourite day, but one person who ought to have a smile on his face is Italy’s national football team manager Roberto Mancini.

In May 2018 Mancini took over a demoralized team that had failed to qualify for the World Cup Finals for the first time in 60 years. Now they are European champions. It’s not Mancini’s first taste of managerial success, of course. After winning a string of titles in Italy, he led Manchester City to FA Cup and Premier League glory, ending the club’s 35 year spell without a trophy. While his coaching skills earned respect, his superstition raised a few eyebrows. Mancini banned the colour purple from the Manchester City training ground because he believed it was unlucky. Thousands of pounds worth of purple tracksuits and shirts were given away, baffling players and staff, but the fact is that different colours mean different things to people of different nationalities.

At the height of Rome’s imperial power, only emperors were allowed to wear purple. Purple dye was rare and expensive. Sea shells known as Mediterranean Murex were crushed and processed to make the dye, and 10,000 shells were needed to make just one purple toga. As well as being forbidden to wear the colour, Romans grew to associate it with the gory last moments of emperors such as Julius Caesar and Caligula. When Roberto Mancini banned purple from Manchester City’s training ground, he was acting on an impulse over 2,000 years in the making.

For anyone reaching out to an Italian audience, the localization process should take these things into account. If colours, gestures or forms of words are likely to make a negative impression, they need to be screened out. Anyone wishing an Italian friend good luck before last night’s final would have had a frosty response to the literal translation “buona fortuna”. It’s strongly believed that these words are not meant sincerely, and the speaker actually wishes bad luck. “In bocca al lupo” – literally “into the mouth of the wolf” will convey the spirit of the message.

Why localize websites or technical documentation or marketing material into Italian? Italy is Europe’s largest market for luxury goods, building on the success of brands such as Gucci, Prada, Armani and Versace. While there are economic disparities between the south and the more affluent north, overall ecommerce revenue is soaring. Online spending is forecast to reach $25 billion by 2023, and one third of that money will be spent on fashion items. Internet user penetration is climbing, and by 2023 three quarters of all Italians will be online. Fashion retailers may well find this appealing enough to justify localising their site into Italian. But effective localisation requires attention to detail, and not just in language matters. Over the past decade the Italian credit card Nexi became hugely popular domestically, with over 9 million Italian users. Last Autumn Nexi and SIA merged to create a payment solutions giant valued at €15bn. A website set up to accept Mastercard, Amex and Visa but not Nexi risks losing the custom of the 50% of Italy’s online shoppers who prefer it. If you have high quality products to sell and you’ve taken the trouble to capture their unique selling points in note-perfect, culturally-sensitive Italian, how frustrating would it be to let revenue slip through your fingers because of something as elementary as a missing payment option?

Localization will steer you away from elementary errors and preserve your message in sense and spirit.

Localization will open doors that might otherwise remain permanently closed.

Localization will help you speak to the world.

In bocca al lupo.