Localizing Marketing Material

The translation of marketing material is one of the most challenging areas of the translation and localization industry.

When localizing documentation and help, the objective of the translation is well defined. The translation of procedures and information on how to use a specific application is not a creative task. Translators are required to provide a localized text that is clear and unambiguous, and use terminology and style that are standard for this type of material or this particular client. The aim is to provide users with information that allows them to achieve their goal with the greatest efficiency: whether formatting a letter or drawing the plan for a network. There is no particular message in a procedure, therefore there is no emphasis, no hidden meaning.

Marketing material imposes a totally different perspective. If we agree with the definition of the term marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service”, it is evident that the objective of a brochure has little in common with the objective of a user guide.

So far so good… But when requesting the translation of marketing material what does the client expect to receive? And what is the correct approach by the translator? How creative should the translator be, if at all?

The translator’s responsibility is to transmit in the target language, concepts and messages contained in the source text without additions or omissions, to the best of their knowledge, respecting all linguistic and cultural aspects contained in the original text. However, the application of these rules alone is not likely to produce a brochure that instantly conveys the true essence of the message the client would like to convey.

The challenge behind the translation of marketing material is often underestimated by non-translators. A play on words that is catchy and smart in one language might sound superficial or be outright offensive in another. Tag lines and slogans are often untranslatable because they are based on cultural connotations specific to a particular region that do not exist anywhere else. Marketing material often uses alliterations, metaphors and other forms of rhetoric in the source language that simply do not work in any other language. These can naturally be re-invented in the target language. The question is whether the translator is the really the right person for such a creative task.

In theory, when translating marketing material, translators need to step up and interpret the text to appropriately convey the message expressed in the source; they may need to add or omit text. They will know of the regional differences in the actual service or product itself and incorporate these accordingly. They will understand the customer’s approach when targeting potential markets and reflect this philosophy in the translation.

Once all of this has been achieved, clients can usually rest assured that the translated text they receive can be printed and distributed without further ado.

Realistically, this perfectly painted picture is a rare bird indeed. The client and the translator are dependent on each other to publish good marketing material; the translator will provide the best possible translation of the material and, ideally, comments and suggestions to the customer, but only the customer will be in the position to make creative decisions, or modify information or change connotative nuances based on their knowledge of their products, their markets and their corporate identity.

Customers should provide translators with upfront information, such as glossaries, previously published marketing material in the target language and whatever reference material they may have, but they should not forget to provide feedback on the translation and send a copy of the edited document to the translator. An interactive relationship with the client is a valuable asset, and any translator privileged enough to have it will look forward to the next marcom project with a client who understands the essence of creative collaboration.

After all, fruitful relationships result in better business!