Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obfuscation from Groupon Japan?

Update below

The CEO of Groupon made an apology video for their New Year's farce in Japan. This has now become world wide news. Now, I discovered another tidy bit that points to a very loose and flippant attitude about this affair either by the CEO or by Groupon Japan.

Is this an example of obfuscation by Groupon in their apology video? What he says in English is different than what it says in Japanese:

There are lots of things in this video that make me go, "Hmmm?" But one of the worst comes at about 23 seconds into the video, the CEO of Groupon says, 

"...the business couldn't process the volume of orders and ended up delivering food late to many of our customers and in terrible condition to others."

Now, it is obvious that this guy hasn't bothered to find out what really happened and that this was not just a problem of late deliveries and damaged product. It was mostly a problem of "bait and switch" or out and out fraud.

Advertised product at top, delivered product below. Does this look like merely a problem of late deliveries and damaged product to you?

Even though the CEO makes no mention of this, the Japanese translation is written so that it can be construed to say what the CEO didn't. It says,


Translation of Japanese subtitles : "This time, our product was late and the ingredients were completely different (than what was advertised)."

Like I said, the CEO of Groupon makes no mention of this problem. Is he completely unaware of it? Has his Japanese staff not told him the truth or has he not bothered to find out what really went on?

Probably a bit of both. Either way, it doesn't point to diligent management. 

On the other hand, of course, 97% of the Japanese can't understand English well enough to understand what the CEO is saying; they will all just read the subtitles. Is this rewriting what the CEO said an attempt to fool the Japanese public? You certainly cannot call this a straight translation. 

The ultimate lesson that I think can be drawn from this is that the CEO of Groupon, like most company CEO's who find themselves in a similar position, actually thinks, "Yeah. My  company is all screwed up. So what's new? I'll just go make an apology and act like I care, then this will all go away."

Will it?

I think Mr. Mason needs to take acting lessons. He needs to be able to shed crocodile tears on cue. He also needs to get his act together with his script writers and translators before making another mistake.


Whenever I make a mistake or screwup, I want to admit my mistakes clearly. Some people have written to debate the translation the has been rendered above. While no one debates the point that the apology from the CEO is - how shall I say it? - insufficient. A few have debated the translation of his words. Specifically the existence or non existence of the word, "advertising."

A Japanese national who has been a  professional translator for over 25 years and I discussed this translation before posting. She works off the concept of translating Culture Specific concepts with emphasis on allusions. That is defined as, "Allusions are potential problems of the translation process due to the fact that allusions have particular connotations and implications in the source language and the foreign culture but not necessarily in the translation and the domestic culture. There are some procedures and strategies for rendering Culture Specific Concepts and allusions respectively."

While I must admit that it is true that the word, "advertising" does not appear in the Japanese text, I know that this word is implied in the Japanese translation and, as such, embellishes the words of the CEO. Thus the use of the term "Obfuscation."  

For a full rebuttal to complaints about the translation, from a Japanese national who has been a professional translator with over 25 years experience see here


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah? You got ripped off?

Get over it.

Guy Jean said...

My guess as to why there is a discrepancy in the video between what the dude says in English and the Japanese subtitles:

Someone, somewhere, realized that what the dude was saying in English was insufficient for a Japanese audience, and that the dude was unlikely to be receptive to a rather complex explanation of Japanese culture and etiquette, and then they went ahead and enhanced the Japanese translation on their own initiative.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

@Guy Jean,

You know, that is a very good observation and I think probably is a spot on analysis of this situation. Well done.

Anonymous said...

The nuance of what is translation is likely to be as you have stated. But, it is a point of contention. Verbally, the translation is, "" which causes the situation that applies annoyance in many customers this time, during time it could not deliver in the customer, and in terrible state was delivered and..."
While this is true, the statement in it's total must be considered to be the translation.
T. Yama

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that the intent of the Japanese "Ji maku supa" was to embellish the English... To make it more acceptable to the Japanese. I think your translation captures the complete intent of the exercise : and that is to "fool" the Japanese who cannot understand English.

Mark Davis said...

What a great case study for cross-culture business etiquette complete with perceptive comments. This is what a marketing blog should look like. Well done, Mike.

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