Mattel’s New Ad Campaign is a Translator’s Holiday Treat

toy-feliz

As businesses and society itself go more global, advertising agencies are calling more and more upon translators.  But commercial translation may be one of the most challenging kinds out there!

For example, while many companies have short slogans that appear easy enough to literally translate from one language to another, what happens when that brief, catchy phrase isn’t so brief or catchy outside its original form?  I remember a few years ago, an ad agency friend asked if I could translate a client’s two-word slogan into French.  The catch was, for typesetting reasons, the translated slogan also needed to be two words long.  French isn’t an easy language when it comes to minimizing word count.  In the end, we had to come up with an entirely different phrase that still conveyed the same meaning.  And despite our hard work – and the approval of several French native-speakers — the client wasn’t happy, holding out hope that somehow, the original phrase could still just be crammed into two words.

Of course, some companies don’t bother to change their slogans at all.  Nespresso’s “What else?” has become a huge catchphrase here in France, likely thanks to George Clooney saying it in all of their commercials.

Still, for most businesses, reaching out into new markets means wanting their brand to appear as culturally friendly and approachable as possible.  But what do you do when you’re targeting advertising towards a largely bilingual population? Do you have to translate into just one language?

The Latino market in the United States has been rapidly growing, especially over the past decade — this article cites an increase in buying power “from $491 billion in 2000 to $1.2 trillion in 2013.”  While there are a number of Hispanic channels and radio stations that feature ads with words from both Spanish and English, and while some US TV stations will air commercials entirely in Spanish, even during an English-language program, I personally haven’t seen anything quite like Mattel’s 2013 holiday campaign, called “ ’Toy Feliz”, which was spotlighted recently – and deservedly –  in the New York Times.

The commercials are in Spanish, but the slogan – and especially the use of the word “Toy” – is truly bilingual. Each word in the phrase skillfully appeals to Spanish-speaking, English-speaking – and bilingual – minds. Playing with two languages, the slogan takes on a multifaceted, multicultural aspect.  There’s the way “toy” sounds like a young child saying “estoy” (Spanish for “I am”), the way the word “feliz” is linked to the phrase “Feliz Navidad” (Merry Christmas) in many minds, especially this time of year.

The entire slogan can have two meanings: “I’m happy”, or “Toy-happy” – and the latter is of course what Mattel hopes holiday shoppers will be.  According to the company’s research, there’s a pretty good chance of this: “Latina mothers,” Mattel reports, “spend on average about $20 more than other consumers on each toy shopping trip and are loyal to toy brands.”

I think Mattel’s bilingual ad campaign could be beneficial to a lot of people, from Mattel itself, to translators, for whom this could be the start of a new trend in exploring and using language in bilingual markets in innovative ways.  And, of course, let’s not forget the kids whose parents like the commercials so much they’re inspired to go shopping!

Alysa Salzberg

¡Feliz Navidad!/Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and Happy Holidays to all!

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