Lost In Translation

Last night I had a dream about global branding.  It came to me, like a scene from a play or a movie.  As soon as I woke up, I wrote it down so I could remember it.  Here is what I remember:

[Scene:  Conference room of a major multinational corporation.  Five people seated around the oval table.  3 of them are from the client marketing team.  2 are from their ad agency.]

Marketer 1: “This slogan is brilliant.  I love it!  We’ll use it on all of our advertising, around the world.  It’s not the coffee that keeps you up at night, it’s the bunk.”*

Marketer 2: “Nobody in my country will understand it.  We need to translate it.  Even though our brand is global, our brand is locally relevant.  It says that in our mission statement.  So we need to speak in the local languages.”

Agency 1:  “The line will lose all meaning if we translate it.  It’s a great line, iconic.  It will make you famous.”

Agency 2:  “Look at the Apple advertising.  Nokia.  Philips.  They use English taglines everywhere.  Everyone understands English, it’s the universal language of movies, music and advertising.”

Marketer 2: “Nobody will understand it.  It will make us seem like a distant, arrogant, global corporation who is only interested in selling more, more, more.”

Marketer 1: “It loses all brilliance in translation.  Why can’t we do this in English?”

Agency 1:  “Yes, yes, that’s the only solution.”

Agency 2:  “This is a breakthrough line.  Everyone will be saying it, in every language.  It will have great word-of-mouth momentum.  We can hire models to whisper it in art galleries in all of the major cities from Madrid to Moscow.”

Marketer 2: “We have to translate it.  It is a fact.  You can disagree with the fact but that doesn’t change it.”

Agency 1: “You are killing the whole idea.  You are squeezing the creativity out of it.”

Marketer 1:  “You are both right.  The line is brilliant.  But we do need to have it in the local languages.  Why can’t we do that?”

Agency 2: “Everyone in Europe speaks English.  How about we keep it in English there but translate in China and Latin America?  That solves the problem.”

Marketer 2: “Are we translating the actual words or are we translating the meaning?”

Agency 2: “We’ll have our local offices create new lines for each country.  That way it will be completely relevant.”

Marketer 1: “So we won’t have a single global tagline?  How can we be a global brand without a global tagline?”

Marketer 3: “Okay, I know what can we do!  We’ll make it universal — we’ll use Esperanto!”

[blackout]

Context is King!

What does the color red symbolize?  In many Asian cultures it is a powerful color, very positive.  In many Western cultures it has negative connotations.

The word collaboration is positive in the US — working together.  In France it is a highly charged word, since it has shadings of collaborating in WWII.

As companies stretch to become global brands they have to wrestle with the problem of being lost in translation.  Words are not universal.  Their meaning shifts.  They cannot be nailed down to simple plain meaning.  Somewhere along the line irony begins to slip in.   In fact, the meaning of words shift in the same country over time.   They go from current to camp faster than you can say phat.

Brand Context is King!

Here’s an example:  In the 1990s Samsung had a tagline, “Simply Samsung” which consumers understood to mean the products were simplistic, basic, not very advanced.  In the 2000s Philips has a tagline, “Sense and Simplicity” which is understood to mean taking complex things and making them easy, everyday and wonderful.

* Yes, this is the slogan that won a big contest in the old movie “Christmas in July.”  Great movie that hinges on who comes up with the best slogan for a big coffee company.

0 Responses to “Lost In Translation”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 27 other followers