Global Marketers, Don’t Let Your Marketing Get Lost In Translation

Jason Johnson, Cupid Meidia CMO.

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jason Johnson, CMO of Cupid Media, a Dating Group company.

Globalization was once a pinnacle of business performance that only the largest, most powerful corporations could achieve. But now, thanks to the internet and its resulting innovations, international markets are within reach for most businesses. 

However, with easy access comes great responsibility. Before you advertise on a global scale, here are some hard-earned lessons for avoiding common pitfalls.

Literal translations can be misleading 

Having headed global advertising initiatives for over 15 years, some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned are from translation blunders – some funny, some catastrophic. For example, we ran a “don’t give up on love” campaign in Italian. Unfortunately, the intent of this message got lost and translated to “don’t give up on heated cabbage.” 

Despite Cavoli riscaldati having metaphorical meaning in Italian, it wasn’t the right message. And on another occasion, we advertised “cat rooms” instead of “chat rooms” in France.

Localization should always start with research and solid insights into the markets you want to reach. This is one of the most fundamental principles for any marketer, and global marketing is no different. That’s why it’s important to hire translators who are immersed in the culture – or opt for native speakers. 

When it comes to messaging, always create two versions. The first version should be developed in English for an English-speaking audience. And the version for translation should be a clearly written, simplified expression of the first. This will minimize the risk of your messaging quite literally getting lost in translation. 

You should also provide translators with creative briefs outlining details regarding the target audience, brand voice, formality and intent of the messaging. Just because something is grammatically correct doesn’t mean it will be effective. There’s so much more to consider (tone, mood, audience, etc.).

Be sensitive to cultural nuances

Being sensitive to cultural nuances hinges on knowing the local market. Engage with resources that can provide you with all the knowledge you’ll need. For example, Google has export teams that specialize in local market insights.

You should also ask some important questions. Are certain images offensive? Do numbers and colors have meaning or significance? Are there taboos that should never be broken? The list of potential pitfalls can be extensive, and many will not be evident until it’s too late.

A classic example of a company not doing its homework before going to market in an unfamiliar region was when Pepsi introduced its slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life” to the Chinese market. To the locals, the phrase meant, “Pepsi brings you back from the grave.” It definitely wasn’t the right message.  

Understand the limitations of technology

Most advertisers are running international efforts with lean teams and slim budgets. This means they need to maximize output from a limited number of resources. And the right technology can help, but it isn’t the answer to everything.   

Localization is an area that requires both technological and human resources. Although Google Translate is a great tool, it’s not something that can be relied on for global campaigns. But platforms like Lokalise and Pairaphrase can help lean teams control the localization process, shorten the time to market, improve translation quality and improve productivity. However, they are not perfect, either, which is why it’s always good to engage culturally savvy, fluent translators for any final product.  

With technology, it’s easy to assume things are being handled perfectly. But you should assume nothing and test everything. And the performance of any campaign should be monitored both in-flight and post-campaign. Tools like, a cost-effective way of accessing qualitative data, are beneficial. Also, rely on your customer service team for relevant feedback whenever possible. 

On a final note, what’s exciting about being a global marketer is that every new campaign is an opportunity to learn. Reaching a global audience will never be a “mastered” skill. It’s more about progress than perfection. 

The world is always changing, and marketing will constantly evolve. The best thing you can do as a leader is foster an advertising culture that celebrates learning – especially when it comes to getting familiar with international markets.

Follow Cupid Media (@CupidMedia) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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