A recent post in the Marketing Executives News Group written by Author Sean Duffy and titled Going Global: How to Overcome the Hidden Risks of International Brand Launches detailed some key concerns with any global product launch.

He lists those concerns as:

    1. Is tweaking my domestic marketing plan or ad campaign for international use really an option?
    2. Are my own notions of quality hampering my ability to adapt to the local market?
    3. Is my marketing department set up to execute a cross-border campaign?
    4. Is my ad agency writing for the market or for the translator?

I think the authors raises some valid concerns that any marketer should address while planning for an international release. Overall, this is a good article but I have to take issue with the comment he makes in the fourth point:

You invest in professional copywriting services not only to impart facts but to connect with your target on a contextual and emotional level and to motivate them to act. Unfortunately those are the first qualities that are lost in translation. Translators are linguistic experts. They will ensure the accuracy of diction, spelling and grammar, but can’t ensure that the copy will perform its marketing job. That’s why you should not translate.

A good translation agency with experience in handling marketing materials will indeed adapt your text for the local market rather than providing a literal translation. This is a key differentiator between good and bad translation firms.

We have answered many RFP’s for firms that were looking for high quality translation services but yet were only concerned about spending the smallest possible amount of money. Unfortunately, you can’t have both. An investment in proper translation is one of the most important aspects of ANY international marketing campaign and in order to achieve a good translation you have to have a solid project manager, translator and independent editor who are accustomed to working with the localization of marketing materials.

When pricing translation services for a marketing project be sure to compare apples to apples. Make sure your team has experience with point of purchase displays, labeling, web text and marketing collateral of all shapes and sizes. Think of your translation team as your international copy writing team. They should challenge you with questions on the meaning of phrases, exact intentions of specific ad copy (target audience, etc) and even an opinion on your use of humor or slang in the copy (it doesn’t always work!).

The author says that the ad agency shouldn’t write the copy for the translator. This really depends on your goals as a marketer.

    • Do you want to have a cohesive singular approach to your campaigns no matter where in the world? Well then you will have to settle for some forms of compromise on humor and slang, imagery, colors, amount of white space in the copy and other key issues related to marketing to many countries.

OR

    • Do you want to basically launch independent campaigns in each country so you can fully adapt your content to each market? This is fine but you should expect higher costs (printing, production, etc), longer production cycles, longer approval cycles, more internal overhead in terms of managing multiple source documents to match each translated version (especially if you are in a regulated industry where this would be a requirement).

So I would say, yes you SHOULD write the copy with the translator in mind. Why wouldn’t you do that? You should write the copy with an understanding that it will be translated and try to anticipate the issues and concerns that will come up when your content is being adapted for the local market.

A good example of why this has to be true is the story of a medical device manufacturing client of ours that wanted to launch a campaign about an ECG device that used new technology to display, store and print really vibrant ECG patient analysis. The whole campaign was focused on portraying the cardiologist as an artist and cardiology as an art form. While this was seen as a romantic vision of cardiology here in the US, in Europe this would have been an insult to physicians, especially the older generation. In Europe, physicians are placed on a pedestal, they are viewed as elite members of society. No offense to any of my friends that are artists, this is just the reality of social standing and titles in Europe. Thankfully, the international campaign was reconcepted before any damage was done.

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