;   Medical Translation Insight: Mind your language! Bilingual packaging, branding in Canada - ForeignExchange Translations

By virtue of the fact that Canada borders America, it is often assumed to be an extension of the U.S. Manufacturers who import into Canada's French-speaking provinces find out quickly that this is not the case.

Provinces such as Quebec, New Brunswick, and Manitoba offer vast opportunities for manufacturers but there are a important considerations with regards to product labeling and packaging before products can be sold across Canada.

Plush Text Communications recently posted an overview of Canadian labeling issues. The post pointed out that Quebec has some specific rules about translating the content and information that appears on your products and packages. Under the Quebec Charter of the French Language, most of the information on the product itself, the container (including product labels), outer packaging, and any accompanying warranties and technical manuals, must be included in French before the product can be sold to retail consumers.

This creates significant challenges for marketing and packaging professionals. When it's time to consider bilingual packaging, there are at least five areas to look at beyond government regulations:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Consumer alienation
  3. Intellectual property
  4. Market expectations
  5. ROI
(See Cloverview for more details on the six items.)

On the regulatory front, Plush Text Communications' blog post mentioned a handful of items to keep in mind:
  • In Quebec, wholesalers are exempt so the language requirements only apply to the retail market.
  • In Quebec, product labels may also appear in English or another language, as long as French has equal or greater prominence in comparison to any other language.
  • Certain types of products may be exempt from the language laws, including pet food, cosmetics, certain test market products, and some feeds, seeds, fertilizers and pest control products.
  • Food, drug-related and other products may be managed under different federal statutes, such as the Food and Drugs Act or the Textile Labelling Act, and manufacturers should double check the language requirements for these products separately.
Getting back to intellectual property, it's no wonder that this is an area of big concern. The Consumer Labelling and Packaging Act provides that a product must carry bilingual packaging and labeling if a product will be sold in an area that has a Francophone population of more than 10%. Moreover, where a logo contains the trademark and the generic name of a product, the description of the product must appear in both languages. In Saccone & Speed v Registrar of Trademarks (1982), Justice Cattanach provided some explanation of language and trademark issues:
"The label was revised as a direct necessity to comply with the provisions of the Consumer Packaging Act and the Regulations thereunder. The additional verbiage added to ensure compliance therewith is to be disregarded. The addition of the additional wording necessitated a modification of the design to accommodate the language required to be added. This was done but in doing so the appellant exercised care to preserve the dominant features of its trademark."
A further consideration for potential branders is the fact that bilingual trademarks must be utilized in both languages. In Gariepy Marrcoux Richard v Promotions Cobelli Ltee (1994), the owner had a bilingual trademark PASSEPORT EPARGNE/SAVINGS PASSPORT. However the English version of the trademark had never been used commercially and consequently the bilingual mark was expunged for lack of use. The decision reflects the reasoning that a bilingual trademark must be fully utilized.

In response to these challenges, Managing IP suggests that brand owners register trademarks in English and French separately, to comply with the Act and avoid any difficulties that could arise from a lack of use.

Despite the difficulties involved, it is important to realize the goodwill that accrues to manufacturers. The Canadian francophone population (just like everybody else) appreciates packaging, signage, and trademarks that incorporate its native tongue. Well, unless they're translated poorly, of course.

For further reading, take a look at:
ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized translation services to drug and device companies - in Canadian French and dozens of other languages!


  1. Bob said...
    Very interesting piece. We often forget that Canada is a separate country, not just a northern extension of the US.
    amaxson said...
    This is a very interesting topic!
    If you go to the grocery store in Canada you see this everywhere. And, you see it dealt with in many clever ways. For many products you see on shelves, this isn't that big of a deal. Take a cereal box for instance. In the US, often the back of the box is dedicated to a game or cartoon for kids cereal, or 'fluff' text for adults. (Perhaps saying how good the cereal is for you?) In Canada, I've seen the 'back' of the box turned into the front. One side is English, the other side French. Problem solved!

    For medical device and other packaging, its not always that simple. Often, packages are already chock-full of everything that needs to be on there. Warnings, descriptions, symbols, not to mention the company branding. Making room for a dual-language layout can be trying.

    One thing that is helpful, is when the package is being designed, if the company knows it will be translated, try to keep the end-user in mind. Leave room for text expansion. If you know you will need to lay it out in a dual language format, plan for it. We understand that this is not always possible, but will make the job much easier on everyone involved.

    When for, example, medical device packaging goes to another country, not only do we need to worry about text expansion/dual text, but any regulatory information, symbols (think EC/REP, Manufacturer, or temperature limitations) that country requires will also need to fit. This often leaves little to no room for anything but the most important and necessary text. (Think very small packages, that are sometimes no bigger than 2"x3"x1") The end result isn't always the prettiest, but its a small price to pay to gain another market!
    Michael Glover E said...
    Interesting article. The insights on the clever way of consumer goods packaging procedure is pretty cool. I run a small business and my packing issues are taken care of by www.goldpak.com . I feel that the informations on the packages telling how good it is for you is a sheer waste because people who get to read it are the ones who already know the goodness of it. :P The space required to print these “factual” information can be used for other recreative purposes ,probably like printing in dual languages.

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