Translation for Advertising: Bring in Your Crazy Aunt

In a world teeming with different language and cultures, what does it take to reach the international consumer? What is the role of translators who need to make intelligible a certain perspective while still staying attuned to linguistic modes and cultural idiosyncrasies? How can creative teams communicate their messages, slogans, logos and branding while avoiding being ignored or – worse yet – offending an entire culture/country?

The reality is that international campaigns must now answer the question:  how can they sell a standardized product to a linguistically and culturally heterogeneous global population? When global advertising picked up speed in the early 1990s, marketers focused on using the same strategy of communication in all targeted countries. They felt many countries already had a standard of consumer behavior, were familiar with international icons such as celebrities and musicians, and were part of the new international consumer category. So, a standardized approach would be the way to go, right?

Not necessarily. On the other side of the debate, stand those who warn of the inherent risks of a homogenous approach.  When the local culture still holds great influence and relevance in numerous countries, it can be a risky affair to not adapt your communication to local markets. Thus, the trend toward localization has been gaining steam.

Localization marketing communication is geared to the specificities of the local environment. This includes the socio-cultural aspects such as the area’s religion, habits, rules of conduct and ethical norms. It also includes the politico-legal component that focuses on the local political system and its regulations and restrictions. For example, will you be allowed to show an ad for tobacco, a medicine or a sweepstakes?

Enter the vital translation partner, stepping in to play a key role of delicately balancing the aspects mentioned above to ensure a successful campaign. It is all a very multifaceted job. Last month we discussed the difficulty in translating words with multiple meanings. What about marketing’s catchy mottos, slick slogans and ingenious word play? How do you deal with that?

Call in the crazy aunt.
Well, most of the time, call in the crazy aunt. The aunt is transcreation, which, when you look up the definition, you will find: “transcreation is a term used chiefly by advertising and marketing professionals to refer to the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.” Sounds a lot like the definition of translation, yet, it is more like the abundantly artistically gifted crazy aunt.

Transcreation still needs to find the right words, covey the humor, keep the nuance and preserve the meaning as in translation. But transcreation also needs to garner the same “feeling” of the message and sometimes that takes a more liberal view on things. In fact, cultural differences are so numerous that the text may change quite a bit to harness the same emotional response. Take Intel, the computer chip-maker. Intel’s slogan “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow” didn’t translate well in the Brazilian market. Research showed that when translated into Portuguese “Sponsors of Tomorrow,” made the people of Brazil believe that Intel would take too long to deliver on its promises. So, Intel used transcreation to appeal to the Brazilian audiences’ more ardent nature and changed the line to “Intel: In love with the future.” That worked much better for Intel.

So how can it all be handled?

First comes solid research.
To have effective transcreation of marketing information, substantial global market research must be undertaken. Once the research has been tested and evaluated, the marketing team must work with a skilled language partner.

Change is good.
Transcreation may even create a new look and feel for the campaign by changing fonts and all or part of the images used. Graphics which work in one country may be considered offensive in another. Colors too. Red in western culture generally stands for love and action. It symbolizes beauty and power in India. In the Far East, red is used to indicate prosperity and good fortune. But using red when marketing to Middle Eastern cultures, isn’t a good idea. There, red is a symbol of danger and evil.

Localized marketing campaigns may indeed be the better way to go.  Sure, it is more time consuming and more budget-consuming to use transcreation, but it can be worth it if target audiences respond and act on the message(s). It also avoids miscommunication and wards off a brand getting a “bad name.” Convincing global audiences that the message is worth their time and money takes solid research and that “special” aunt.
By Ilona Knudson

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