Branding & co: foreign sells

Welcome to a new post of the #rainybrandingtuesday series! I came across this article on Women’s Health of this June:

As many typos as you can think of: a graphic example

As many typos as you can think of: a graphic example

While I don’t dislike the idea of snippets of information or travel tips in another language (even though this magazine is about fitness, not travel), after a thorough read I realised that the languages are all wrong (the Italian being the very worst). So I wondered:

how come that a widely known, top magazine like this (it’s quite possibly the biggest name in general public, fitness-related magazines) is NOT paying attention to the fact that all these languages are seriously crippled by mistakes?

I can already picture an editor coming up with this idea and instead of corroborating the accuracy of the languages with a pro, deciding to trust the office intern who spent 6 months in Italy or Spain as an au pair to check it.

I’m sure in this case I’m quite possibly one of the few who feels bad about it – and ashamed there are so many typos in my language (let alone the sex pest stereotyped reference…) but on a larger scale, companies should really pay attention to the need for cultural sensitivity in global marketing. 

Another interesting issue is the one raised by Sarah Elzas in her short piece:

Sony, Prada and BMW were among the companies that received a slap on the wrist this week [2013] in France for using foreign words in their advertisement campaigns. Under French law, all foreign words must be accompanied by a translation. The French Authority on Professional Advertisement – the ARPP – charged with overseeing ad campaigns in France, looked at nearly 4,000 campaigns, and found 43 were not following the law. RFI spoke to Stéphane Martin, the head of the Agency, about why it is important for France to protect its language in this way.

Nevertheless, the use of foreign languages in ads is aimed to making it more appealing, as underlined in this detailed article in Wikipedia – and goes under the name of “Foreign branding”:

Foreign branding is an advertising and marketing term describing the implied cachet or superiority of products and services with foreign or foreign-sounding names. In non-English-speaking countries, many brands use English- or American-styled names. In English and other non-English-speaking countries, many cosmetics and fashion brands use French- or Italian-styled names. Also, Japanese, Scandinavian, and of other origin-sounding names are used in both English- and non-English-speaking countries to achieve specific effects.

This can be in the name: the Pret A Manger sandwich retail chain is British while Dolmio that despite an Italian-sounding name, is made by Masterfoods in Australia; or in the graphics: The London-based sushi restaurant YO! Sushi uses a typeface that makes the Y and O look like the katakana letters and (romaji: ri and ku).

In the paper Would you like umlauts with that? by Bruce Campbell  we can read more on this:

Advertisers use foreign branding to associate their products with laudable qualities linked with foreign countries. Many skin-care products use French names and phrases because consumers equate France with exceptional knowledge of beauty (and clear skin, no doubt). Research shows, for example, that the French product Clarins gets substantially more positive consumer response when it is accompanied by French phrases and sprinkled with random accent marks than when presented sans its French heritage.

So the bottom line is: the use of foreign words making products more appealing to us buyers. A few examples:

Is the Czech correct...?

Ads in the tube. But…is the Czech correct…?

How does this apply to us freelancers?

This is especially important:

  • when we choose a name for our brand or company or product
  • when a client is asking us to run checks on existing concepts or brand names
  • when we translate, because sometimes knowing what’s behind a brand (ie. knowing where it’s really from) can help with the understanding of the concepts in the text e.g. if a French-sounding company makes references to the tradition of France, it’s essential to make sure we do not lose that sense of heritage in our delivered version
  • when we work on transcreation: sometimes foreign branding (and copy that uses foreign words or references) makes it hard for us to actually localise the text making sure we don’t incur in a loss of content /meaning – just as in jokes, that sometimes can seem untranslatable

Can you think of any other cases?



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