04 Jun 2019


Your marketing team has toiled for months to come up with the perfect marketing strategy for a new product on the market. They came up with the tagline and then polished, buffed and preened it to perfection, until it was shining in all its glory, promising great success once launched.

Its amazingly succinct copy, subtle wordplay and playful approach means it is ready to hit all the markets where your product is sold. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, the tagline needs to be translated into the languages of all the different markets where the product launch is happening. You will send the short phrase to the nearest and cheapest translation agency and ask them to do the translation quickly, without providing any context or target audience – quickly flushing all the hard work down the drain.

Where did you go wrong?

Let’s put it this way: would you take your brochures with beautiful, professionally-done pack shots and promotional creatives and print it out on your most basic black and white printer or the photocopier in the office and send them to the client? Of course you wouldn’t!

So why do the same with the marketing copy?


Why is marketing translation not just a translation?

How is the adaptation of marketing copy different to the translation of legal, technical or medical materials?

In the simplest of terms: translating marketing copy requires a deep understanding of the brand character, tone of voice, target audience and language subtleties – and how to convey them to another culture or cultures.

Marketing copy localisation

The correct term for adapting marketing copy is LOCALISATION.

Why is it any different and what does it include?

The aim of the marketing copy that is to be localised is important. Does it introduce your brand? Describe product benefits? Showcase your USP? Present a call-to-action? Foster engagement with your audience? Whatever its purpose, it is paramount that the goal is understood and conveyed properly for all the markets, in a culturally acceptable way.

A route to achieving this is understanding the target audience. One would not speak in the same tone of voice to kids, teenagers, young professionals or the elderly, right?

A deep and thorough understanding of the meaning, with all its nuances and hidden innuendos is also a must. You must expect a certain level of creative licence to be utilised, since this is not simply a case of translating the text word-for-word, as one would do with a medical text. No, just the opposite, in fact. It is important to translate the message, the tone of voice, intended atmosphere – and in most cases a literal translation might be grammatically correct, yet utterly wrong for marketing purposes.

What is localised?

Not just the message itself, but all the other elements of the communication will sometimes undergo subtle changes to make them fit into the target market seamlessly.

  • Humour, idioms, wordplay, puns

Playing with words is quite a regular occurrence in clever marketing campaigns. Consider all of the above, add some repetition or alliteration to the mix – and you get ideas that might not travel overseas easily. This is why you need creativity and writing skills when adapting them for different cultural groups.

  • Colours and images

Not just the phrases and word choices, but also the selection of images and colours sometimes needs to be reconsidered. For example, white is the colour of purity and peace in the Western culture, whereas it symbolises grief and mourning in the East. These two quite opposing principles would not be carried over well, don’t you think?

  • Brand names

Let’s explain this one with an easy example (and there are many out there!): is there a reason Ford should have been more cautious when releasing its KUGA model on the Serbian and Croatian market? Do you think knowing that the name translates as PLAGUE in these languages might have made them stop and think?


How can you make sure your brand is not recognised for blunders?


When getting the marketing copy ready for localisation for different markets, it pays to be careful and prepared, so here are a few handy tips:

  1. Don’t choose the cheapest translation agency out there.

Yes, of course, you should shop around and collect a few offers, but don’t make a choice based on the price alone. Instead, investigate the option of having translators specialised in marketing materials and, of course, skilled native language copywriters.

  1. Provide information.

Don’t just send a phrase that needs to be translated without any context.

(You can do it as a test, though: a professional translation agency will ask you for further details!)

Try to provide the following: context, story, target audience, reference materials and style guides. The more information you give them, the better a product you will receive.

  1. Test soft copy.

Even before finalising the campaign, test the copy to see if it will travel well across different markets. If you end up with a copy which can only sound good in one language, perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board?

In this case, a translation and review team should be set up in advance — ideally two linguists for each language, engaged from the beginning of the project who can provide valuable feedback.

  1. Give information on space limitations.

If you take into consideration that most languages take up more space than English and that space is a luxury in creative designs and packaging specs, relay the information to your translation team and tell them where the message is supposed to fit into. In some cases, you will need to allow for additional room for certain target languages.

Original slogan Translation in Beijing


Have you had any good or bad experiences with marketing translations?

Let us know!