Let's Stop Translating
Senior Copywriter, Wing
“Words need to be translated, and that’s too inefficient in today’s globalized world” said Martin Murphy in a 2011 IHAVEANIDEA article. He wrote a great piece on opposite points of view on copywriting and its relevance. This sentence stuck with me because I agree.
To me, translating campaigns are, for the most part, a waste of time. But as a creative in a full-service marketing communications agency that works with and for the Hispanic market, I’m faced with having to directly translate campaigns every day. It’s part of the job, and sometimes it’s just a drag.
One of my best friends is a translator, and a damn good one, so I don’t mean to say the work of a translator is not valuable. On the contrary, when you have worked on a pharmaceutical account for the Hispanic U.S. market or created an entire website of a company in Spanish, you know the value of these professionals.
What I’m talking about is the assumption that simply by taking the words in Spanish, the real story the brand is trying to communicate via print ad, TV spot or digital execution is going to effectively reach the audience.
They’ll understand the words, sure. But is the brand really speaking in their terms? Is it hitting the point where language and culture unite? To me, executions like the translated version of AT&T’s “It’s not complicated” campaign proves that maybe just taking a general market (GM) concept and shooting it in Spanish was not the best use of resources.
More than 50 million Latinos live in the U.S., all with different buying power. It’s obvious that the creative and branding possibilities are endless. And only a few companies are really getting it. I recently read that McDonald’s aims for a marketing strategy that leads with multicultural insights. I still don’t eat their burgers (or at least I try really hard not to), but I will say their campaigns for the Hispanic market really hit the spot.
I know money is an issue. Budgets have to be sliced thin between all the communications needs of a brand. But if any brand is considering advertising in Spanish, why not go all the way? Why do it halfway and then complain when the results are not satisfactory?
Clients today request campaigns that work across borders. This trend aims to build brand identity and equity. First you find insights and decide on a personality, and then you creatively execute across all media to go full circle. And yes, an insight can work for both GM and Hispanic U.S. markets but the way to tell the story, the narrative of the brand, should be tailored to the target market in order to make real impact.
What confuses me is why more brands in the United States aren’t jumping in to create Hispanic ads. It’s as simple as considering this target as a protagonist instead of an afterthought. To me, it’s a matter of culture. It’s a matter of understanding that the way we see the world is not the only way the world is viewed by others. And it’s about letting the brand penetrate a particular culture in its own particular way.
There are indeed common insights within Hispanics and Americans, but the way those insights are lived and experienced day to day, may vary greatly and our job as marketers is to discover that difference and go with it. When strategists are researching and digging for info, they should consider these nuances as well. Imagine all the materials available for really amazing brainstorms.
But then, of course this would mean as creatives we’d have our work cut out for us. I believe one of the best parts of our jobs is to create compelling stories that talk about brands and life – and I think that challenge becomes even more enticing if we have lots of material to get our “creative juices” flowing. The challenge will be even greater when our task is to say the same thing in two different ways, for Hispanics and “gringos”.
It would also be the end of direct translated campaigns…and I’m OK with that.