How to Translate an Ad

Many times I see meaningless ads formatted and written in a tone that does not touch any aspect of our lives. Often times, these are poorly translated ads, that were translated by the dictionary, not by culturally-aware human beings.
Not only do these ads fail at conveying the right message, they sometimes backfire in certain societies.
Here are some tips to take into consideration while translating an ad or any other form of copy, written, audio, or visual:

  1. Don't translate!: yes, you read it right. The first thing you DON'T want to do, is take a dictionary, and go word-for-word, or sentence-for-sentence. While this might work well with normal prose, it is quite dangerous with ads. What makes this process more delicate, is the limited space usually provided for advertisements. You usually don't have enough space to go around idioms and phrases, and you have to create something that fits. Don't translate, transcreate. Here is an article that sites different instances of successful transcreation in literature and art.
  2. Think culturally: Thinking about the cultural implications while you write the new copy is necessary to make sure you get your message to the people. There is a website that talks about similar stuff, but the name of the website is the key for this tip: Don't make me think! This site talks about the Internet users' experience and how it must be improved by being simple, to the point, and easy to understand. When you write a transcreated ad, don't make your audience think.
  3. Find the corresponding idiom: Many times, smart ads make us of certain idioms or puns on certain words. This is where you are really transcreating. The pun cannot be translated, and the idiom might and might not have a counterpart in the target language. In this case, you should find the idioms that are used in the target language and find ways in which they can click with the audience.
  4. Test: You should always ask regular non professionals to see the ad and check their reaction. This is also a tip for writing regular ads for your own audience also. Many of us get swayed with the greatness or beauty of a certain pun, or fall in love with a certain idea, that we forget that we are writing to certain people, and even forget that they need to understand! This is an example by Olay.
  5. Check the positioning: An American diapers brand had a commercial showing how easy it is to use their diapers, and how much it saved time. The same ad was adapted for the Far East, and it backfired, as those mothers came through as uncaring. "Why would a mother want to spend less time caring for her babies?" If you don't take this into consideration, you will do the opposite of what you actually want.
  6. Let the people decide: Another safe (and free) method of doing this, is by passing the concept to your target audience and seeing how they deal with it. Post a thread on a forum, and discuss your brand or message. Observe what words people use to describe certain concepts. You will be surprised at how differently people use words for concepts. Try to check if they are using any cultural references or similarities. This is the language they are most comfortable using. Use it in your ads.

The main idea is that you should take the concept, and work with it. Giving it a fresh and local touch, and making sure your audience understand and like it at a glance.

As advertisers globalize, they will need to focus on local partners who understand the culture, instead of just copying and pasting their offices to new locations.