Translation in Advertising: Choosing the Right Messages

Idea TranslationsBest PracticesTranslation in Advertising: Choosing the Right Messages

In Chinese, “bensi” means “rush to die.” Mercedes Benz chose that word a few years ago to enter the Asian market. Although the mistake was quickly solved by the brand, other companies — such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Audi, Dolce & Gabbana, Nike and Heineken — suffered the consequences of a poor translation applied to advertising.

The localization of advertising material requires special skills, because it involves a unique cultural adaptation to target a very specific market. What strategies should be followed in these cases?

Responding to the Needs of Each Audience

As businesses expand and the economy becomes increasingly more globalized, the advertising industry becomes even more important, internationally speaking. Similarly, the growing demands and concerns of consumers mean that the relevance and customization of advertising campaigns and actions are becoming more critical.

In this context, the new challenge for brands is translating their messages in the best possible way to connect with their potential customers without frictions. It is during this process that professional language organizations with experience in advertising prove to be great allies.

99% of advertisers say that customization helps improve customer relationships, while 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer custom experiences. Source: HubSpot

It is clear that literal translations aren’t usually effective in this field, because advertising content is highly creative, often using puns, specific cultural references and idioms that only work in a particular language.

That’s why, when translating copywriting and campaigns, translators work closely with advertising specialists to capture the meaning and context of each advertising message. They are, thus, immersed in transcreation processes.

This means rewriting the meaning, intent, style and tone of the source text in a creative way, to make it culturally appropriate for each market. Transcreation ensures that the target content reflects the context of not only each language, but also of how each market uses language to convey a message.

Building Effective Target-Centric Campaigns

“There can be a cultural gap from one country to another where campaigns, slogans and initiatives don’t resonate with the audience, much less make sense to the end user. Companies can avoid basic advertising mistakes, such as slogans that don’t translate properly, by stressing the research and understanding of the new market,” pointed out Mariko Amekodommo, CEO of international advertising and consultancy agency Mariko Communications.

Likewise, various scholars have pointed out the importance of translating advertising campaigns that have an effect or message that is closer to the source “through a flexible form of functional equivalence.” Some also argue that translators should focus on the emotional transfer of a language, rather than just producing a semantic equivalent of the source content.

In 1999, Mazda launched its LaPuta minivan model. In Spanish, “puta” is a derogatory term for women. Likewise, the Honda Jazz “Fitta” kept its name until someone noticed that fitta is a vulgar word that refers to female genitalia in Sweden.
Source: Lytho

When choosing between different types of translation —such as literal, free or contextual, creative or adaptive— some authors go for the latter, given that it makes advertising translation more readable and appealing.

In turn, in advertising, translations need to take into account the target culture — i.e., language, values, history and customs, among other elements, which must be analyzed separately from the source culture. Thus, several intra and extra-textual aspects need to be considered, such as homophony, polysemy and metaphors.

Basically, companies should seek to expand their horizons and work with linguistic professionals who are capable of capturing not only the meaning of advertising messages, but also the emotions those messages intend to convey. That’s why they require in-depth knowledge of the target culture, so that the message has the desired effect on potential customers.

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