Advertising Translation – Everything You Need to Know

by OFER TIROSH 30/12/2020

I love the layers of complexity involved in translating ads from one language to another. The process is about so much more than language alone, as it encompasses a wide range of cultural elements and nuances. 

Of course, if you’re new to advertising translation then the complexities of it might not seem quite so appealing. Don’t worry, in this article we’ll walk you through translating advertisements from start to finish, covering why and how to do so, with plenty of pointers to help your ads connect with foreign audiences successfully. 

Advertising Translation – Defined

Ad translation is a simple term that covers a whole load of different tasks. Adverts themselves vary hugely. Companies use big-budget TV adverts, radio ads, social media ads, printed media advertisements, paid ads on others’ websites and, of course, their own website as an advertising tool. 

Meanwhile, the translation process includes not just the text of an advert but visual and audio elements. All of these have to be translated, localized and possibly transcreated in order to ensure the final translation of the advertisement is best suited to its intended audience. 

Speaking broadly, advertisement translation covers all of this and more. It is the conversion of an advert designed for one audience into a format that will resonate with a different audience. This can include the language being converted from one language to another. Alternatively, the ad could be translated for those who speak a different version of its original language. Advertising translation in Spanish, for example, could see an ad converted from Mexican Spanish to European Spanish. 

The benefits of getting your ad translation right include a larger customer base, increased profits and a better, more widespread reputation for your products and brand. For further details of the benefits of advertising translation, you can read the article below. Suffice it to say here that this is a task that warrants serious attention. 

Read more: What can professional advertising translation do for your business?

Things to Remember when Integrating Translations to International Advertising

I’ll walk you through some of the key practicalities of how to translate advertising materials in a moment. First, let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll need to consider during the process. 

Context

Advertising is something of an artform. Your advert needs to convey information on what your brand stands for, why consumers need your products and what your unique selling points are, as the bare minimum. It needs to do all of that in a format that the reader/viewer will find both interesting and memorable. 

Many brands use humour and pop culture references in order to achieve this. However, these elements don’t always translate well. 

This is where context comes in. A successful advert needs to fit within the cultural context of its audience. We can break this down into three parts: 

Cultural and Socio-Historical Context

Any advertisement is likely to include nuances that are unique to the culture that developed it. Ingrained cultural and socio-historical assumptions are unlikely to be immediately apparent to those who share their culture with the ad’s creators. However, they can be painfully apparent to people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. 

This means that the successful translation of ads for different audiences involves paying careful attention to the cultural and socio-historical context. 

Rhetorical Context

No matter how persuasive the language of an advertisement, it needs to balance well against the audience’s knowledge of the brand. The rhetorical context is key here and needs to be factored in. 

For example, an oil company advertising clean energy might raise a few eyebrows. However, if that company is open about the environmental damage that the oil industry causes and can show it is genuinely moving towards a clean energy future, that’s a different matter and one that consumers are more likely to get on board with. 

Linguistic Context

You need to think incredibly carefully about the language that you use when you translate your advertisement. The wrong choice of words or clumsy phrasing have the potential to cause offence – or to turn your brand into a laughingstock. You also need to think about how snippets of your ad copy might sound if taken out of context. Do they need the whole narrative in order to not cause offence? If so, it might be worth seeking out alternatives. 

The Current Cultural Climate

Translations of advertising materials need to take into account both the local cultural context and the broader global cultural climate. If you are unable to incorporate an awareness of both of these into your advert, it’s likely to miss the mark, or else to very quickly appear outdated. 

Channel

If you’re translating ads, you’ll need to look at which marketing channels serve your target demographics in the regions that you’ve set your sights on. Would you be most effective reaching out through print media or through an email marketing campaign? Might social networks be the best approach and, if so, which ones are most popular in your target countries?

The nature of the advertisement translation that you undertake, from the copy that is used to the imagery, will in part be dictated by these decisions. As such, you need to be clear on your strategy long before the actual translation and localization of your ads begins. For further insights into how to get your international business marketing strategy right, you can click the link below. 

Read more: How to get your international business marketing strategy right first time

Data

Data is another key consideration. Which data privacy laws are applicable in your target market? Are you allowed to run cold email campaigns? What do you need to do as part of harvesting email addresses in response to your website marketing activity? Again, you’ll need to decide all of this before your translators get to work. 

Research

If you make any claims in your advertising, you’ll also need to consider whether your research is still applicable in the target market. For example, if you sell beard oil in the UK and plan to branch out to selling it in France, Portugal and Denmark, you’ll likely find that attitudes to wearing beards differ from country to country. So your survey which found that x% of men in the UK wear beards will need to be re-run in each of your target markets and the ad updated accordingly. 

Best Practices when Translating Ads

Now I’ve run through some of the key considerations behind advertising translation, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how you undertake it. When it comes to translation ad copy isn’t a case of simply swapping one language for another. All of the factors above come into play. If you just translate your ad literally, it’s almost guaranteed to be a flop. Instead, you need to be far more creative in your approach…

Don’t Translate, Transcreate

This is where transcreation comes in. It’s a concept that blends translation with creativity. Certain elements of your advert remain the same, such as the core message that you’re delivering or the call to action, but how that is achieved can differ wildly from country to country as a result of transcreation. 

Transcreation looks at every element of your original advert and considers how well (or not) it will be received by the target audience. Your copy, images, statistics, strapline, logo and even product and brand name will be put under the microscope and considered changeable as part of the transcreation process. The goal is to make consumers in different countries respond to your advertising in the same way. To do so, you need to transcreate, rather than translate ads. 

Consider the Length of Your Translations

You’ll also need to give the length of your advert some close attention when it comes to the translation process. Graphic design plays an essential role in the presentation of many adverts. No doubt your original ad was carefully arranged to ensure that the copy worked perfectly with the imagery in terms of the design. 

However, just because your advert included 38 words in English doesn’t mean that advertising translation in Spanish (for example) will produce the same number. Languages can differ significantly in the number of words they take to say the same thing, as well as how long their words tend to be. 

This means that you’re likely to have to do some design tweaks when it comes to the translation of your advertisement. Alternatively, if you need to stick with your original design for some reason, you’ll need to look very carefully at word choice in the target language. 

Think About Audio-Visual Elements

We’ve focused mainly on static ads above, but I wanted to add a quick word on audio-visual ads as well. These can be used on the radio, television and social media. The ad translation process is similar to that used for static ads in many ways – such as the need to transcreate – but with plenty of additional considerations. 

For example, will you use subtitles in the translated ad or hire voice actors so that you can dub it? Will the visual elements suit the target culture or will any parts – or even the entire thing – need to be re-shot? If you are dubbing, will the length of the speech in the target language match that of the original or will you need to slow down some of the frames to allow more time for the audio? 

All of this needs to be thought through and mapped out if you’re planning to translate video ads. 

The Challenges of Advertising Translation

Looking at the audio-visual translation ad process highlights some of the challenges involved in this area of work. Let’s take a look at some of the others:

Budget

The process of launching tailored ads for different locales is capital intensive. As such, you‘ll need to undertake initial data gathering/research/surveys to identify which markets are worth your investment and which aren’t. This kind of research can be time-consuming but is money well spent when done right. It can ensure you target only the markets most likely to respond favourably to your advertising and products, so that you make the most of your ad translation spend. 

Being Precious

When you’ve worked hard to create an advert in one country that has gone down really well, it can be hard to step back and watch transcreation specialists pull it apart piece by piece. Many advertisers feel an urge to hold on to certain elements of the original. However, it’s advisable to trust the experts – after all, that’s what you’re paying them for. 

Causing Offence

Even the biggest companies get it wrong sometimes and find that their adverts cause unintended reactions when translated. It’s not only language that can offend but also symbols, imagery and more. It’s essential to consult localization specialists in order to do all you can to avoid accidentally offending the very people you’re trying to sell your products to. 

Objectively Monitoring Your Advertising Campaign’s Success

With any advertising campaign, in any language, you need to monitor its success objectively. That means taking a data-driven approach to analysing the impact of your ad. 

Existing tools

There are plenty of ways that you can do this. A/B testing is one of the most effective. You can use A/B testing for webpages, emails, newsletters, social media ads and more. 

I’ll use email mailouts as the example. To A/B test your email translation ads, you send one version to 10% of your email list and a second version to another 10%. You then analyse which version produced the higher number of opens and clicks and send that one to the remaining 80% of your list. 

With print or televised ads, you can monitor how much your website traffic or incoming call volume increased during the period the ad was run (though these can be impacted by other factors too). And with online ads you can track click-throughs to judge how effective they are. 

Adapt and Re-evaluate

Once you’ve gathered this data, it’s time to consider how you can adapt your ads to improve your response rates. Each time you adapt an ad, be sure to A/B test it and to compare the results to the previous version. Over time, you’ll refine your advertising translation to maximise the impact of each ad. 

Who Should Translate Your Ads?

When it comes to translating advertisements, you’ll need professional linguists with: 

• A deep understanding of the culture(s) you’re targeting

• Outstanding language skills

• Advertising translation experience

• Desktop publishing/graphic design skills

• And possibly transcription, subtitling and other video translation skills 

There are two options open to you when it comes to accessing the professionals you need:

Advertising Translation Services

You can use a professional service that specialises in advertising translation and that provides a team of translators, localization experts and transcreation specialists. You’ll benefit from extensive experience of your target market, dedicated project managers, usually an in-house design team and plenty of people to pick up the reins if one member of the team falls ill or has a holiday booked mid-project. On the downside, this level of attentive service isn’t the cheapest approach. 

Professional advertising translation services cover a wide range of areas, including:

• Advertising copy translation

• Newspaper ad translation

• Promotional literature translation

• Direct marketing translation

• Packaging translation

• Press release translation

• Leaflet translation

• Banner translation

• Brochure translation

• Newsletter translation

• Catalogue translation

• Hoarding translation

• Blog translation

Hiring Freelancers

Your other option is to hire freelancers with experience of translating ads. This can be a more budget-friendly approach if you’re happy to be more hands on with the managing of the project. 

You’ll need to select your translator carefully to ensure that you get the right combination of language skills and cultural insights. You may also need to hire a separate graphic designer in order to achieve the mix of skills that you need. 

Summary

I hope you’re now feeling more confident about tackling your advertisement translation requirements. To recap, we’ve looked at:

• What advertising translation is

• What the key considerations are when you translate advertisement copy and work on other kinds of ad translation

• Some best practices for translating ads

• What some of the challenges of advertisement translation are

• Why objective monitoring is important and how to do it

• The different approaches you can take to finding the right ad translation team

I appreciate that there’s a lot to think about when it comes to translations and advertising, but hopefully this article has got you moving in the right direction. You can contact the Tomedes team directly for further insights and advice, with no obligation. 

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