May 31, 2020  
 
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Translating Ad Copy Into Another Language

Your boss just had the bright idea to start running ads in Spanish-language newspapers and you're responsible for the copy. Your Spanish is more than a little rusty, so all you have to do is find a translator and send it out the door, right?

By the time you're done, you'll wish it were that easy.

Translating ad copy into a foreign language sounds deceptively simple. It isn't. Mistranslations and misunderstandings can lead to a cultural backlash against your company that will quickly foil your efforts to expand into new markets.

Translating ad copy into another language is like creating an entirely new ad. Target audiences always dictate ad content. When you translate ad copy into another language, you're changing more than just words you're changing audiences. So your ad copy has to adapt to meet the needs of your new readers.

Here a few other things to consider when you prepare ad copy to be received in a different language:

  • A simple translation of ad copy is not enough. We've all heard horror stories about companies that used a simple translation to convert existing ad copy and words to another language. For example, in South America, the Chevy Nova became the Chevy "No-Go". Unfortunately, your foreign language ad campaign won't be going anywhere, either, if you fail to consider the complexities of your target language and culture.
  • Idioms and slang don't translate. Have you noticed how many of today's ads rely on expressions, phrases, and idioms that are unique to an English-speaking, American consumer base. When you translate those phrases into another language, you create a disconnect with foreign language readers. You also create the potential for your new readers to become confused or even offended by your attempt to turn them on to your products.
  • Vary your pitch. When you translate ad copy into a different language, don't assume that your new audience will be motivated by the same things as your original audience. Depending on the cultural context, it might be necessary to vary your pitch as well your words.
  • Never put untested ad copy on the street. Unless you are extremely fluent in the language, you're not capable of creating a foreign language ad by yourself. You're going to need the assistance of someone who is fluent in both the language and culture of the people you are trying to reach. Another good idea is to seek the assistance of the people themselves. Field testing your ad with people who speak the language of your new translation will give you untold insights about its accuracy and effectiveness.

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What other tips do you have for translating ad copy into other languages? Please share your experiences.


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