International Copywriting: What Can Go Wrong? Companies that specialize in international online marketing are often left scratching their heads when it comes to the process of international copywriting. The problem is a simple one; how to communicate the same message and maintain consistency across several different languages when each language has vastly different cultural values and linguistic nuances. Unlike the problem, the solution is not so simple. There are, however, a few common mistakes to avoid. If you can manage to sidestep these, then you’re on your way to writing for a range of international audiences. Here are a few of the most common mistakes encountered with international copywriting: 1. Don’t Translate – Transcreate! You’ll find a few of these ‘The Challenges of International Copywriting’ articles bobbing around the Internet and there’s one common reason that they all struggle to stay afloat. It’s because most of the challenges that they list relate to the translation phase. Well, here’s the secret: There shouldn’t be a translation phase. Copywriting inherently involves market research to identify the profile of the target market and what it is that they value, want, and need. This is how we determine the content, style, and tone of the copy. Translation does not involve this research. This is why it’s important that the different language teams work in parallel as opposed to in subsequence. If the source language of your website is EN-UK, then doing a straight-forward translation into, for example, DE-DE makes little sense because the two markets have very different values, wants, and needs. The multilingual copywriting process should ideally begin with a brainstorm involving each language team and should henceforth continue in parallel. 2. Don’t Use Native Speakers – Use Natives! You wouldn’t ask an Italian copywriter to write for a French market, so why ask an American copywriter to write for an Australian market? Or a Portuguese copywriter to write for a Brazilian market? The fact is that language is full of the most intricate subtleties and even the same language will vary considerably across different regions. Let’s take the phrase ‘How are you?’ as an example. In the UK, one of the most common ways to express this is to ask ‘How’s it going?’ but ‘How are you going?’ would be used in areas of Australia. ‘What’s up?’ is just one of the ways that an American might express this (in the UK this phrase would be interpreted as ‘What’s wrong?’). Speakers of the same language do not use language in the same way. Using an American native to write for a British market is only going to result in copy that alienates the reader, or sounds unnatural at best. When you are trying to sell a product or service, it’s important that you speak to your audience in a manner that they can identify with. 3. Don’t Be Afraid of Inconsistency
Branding is important and having a style and tone of voice that represents your brand is marketing 101 for any company. However, it would be erroneous to assume that this tone and style is suitable for every language. Many companies stumble in thinking that international copywriting is a purely linguistic exercise; it’s also heavily cultural and this in turn has its own impact on language. Different cultures expect companies to communicate in different ways. In the B2B world, for example, some cultures (Japan) would expect a very reserved and polite manner of doing business, while others are more accustomed to a direct, aggressive approach (America). In the UK it’s becoming popular for small B2C companies to use a very informal, familiar tone but in other countries it’s more effective to remain formal. Before you decide upon a fixed style and tone of voice for your brand, consult a marketing professional who has expertise in your market area. Find out what works best and, most importantly, listen to their advice! It’s okay to be inconsistent, as long as you are tailoring your copy to the expectations of each market. 4. Compare the Results This one is especially important if you’re a large, well-known company. While it’s okay to be inconsistent with the style and tone of your copywriting, remember that we’re now living in a global environment. If you have a billboard advertisement or a website copywritten for (e.g.) the Spanish market, it will be seen by people from all over the world. Make sure that your copy doesn’t express any values that might give a negative impression to potential customers from other countries. Medical nutrition company Nutricia was the subject of Internet ridicule a few years ago when its advertising campaign was translated for the Dutch-speaking market. The slogan in English read, ‘Mummy, that one, that one, that one!’ It might have seemed like a clever marketing campaign, but unfortunately the Dutch translation horrified English speakers; ‘Mama, die, die, die!’ Ensuring that your copy is not only suitable for the local market, but also for any other market that you may be targeting in addition will have untold benefits. Do Your Research! The most important thing to take from this is that international copywriting cannot be detached from market research. The two must be combined and that goes for every language. It is also essential to remember that copywriting is much more than a linguistic process – it should be considered alongside cultural factors.
Published on Feb 13, 2014
Published on Feb 13, 2014
International copywriting is more than a word-for-word translation. Read on to see how creativity is woven through every stage of the proces...