When good words go bad

May 18th, 2012 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

One of the things our clients expect of us – along with knowing our way around advertising and the food industry – is to put some life into the way we tell their stories and sell their products. A little pizzazz, please.

Advertising is creative and inventive by nature. Along with facts, it tries to inject a bit of brio and a sprinkling of the unexpected among the stainless steel and hydrocolloids. As a copywriter, wordplay is my friend.


It’s when words are given passports and head overseas that things get tricky. A short, punchy positioning line like Foodability, which we created for Cargill, is rendered something like “la capacité de la nourriture“ in Paris, “Lebbensmittel-Fahigkeit” in Berlin or “ruoka kyky” in Helsinki (which I kind of like, actually).

Think about the alliteration put into a tag like “Strategy. Smarts. Sizzle!”– only to have it (as well as brevity) get lost in translation at the Mexico border. There, your prospects will see “Estrategia. Inteligente. Chisporroteo.” Let’s not even think about rhymes or acronyms or cultural missteps.

More and more, international marketers and agencies like us will swap word-for-word translations for “transcreation,” where the linguistic provider is given some creative leeway to adapt content in order to pull the right emotional response in another culture. We might contract the usual translation, but run the result by native speakers in the client’s overseas headquarters – or even rely on their corporate and local knowledge in the first place.

There’s a lot riding on (and invested in) a brand. It’s our job to get it through customs without a hitch.

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