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How the best brands solve creative translation problems

Published on November 13th, 2019

Earlier this year, Hannah Fleishman wrote a great article for HubSpot looking at 13 businesses with brilliant global marketing strategies. One challenge all of these corporate giants have to overcome is the difficulty of translating their brand and its messages into languages for global audiences.

Translating a set of instructions from one language to another is one thing, but recreating the creative language and ideas these brands promote into other languages is very difficult.

Direct translations simply do not work in these situations and the brands highlighted in the aforementioned article have to overcome some serious creative translation problems – so let’s take a look at how they pull them off.

Which brands are we looking at?

All of the brands in Ms Fleishman’s article have strong reputations for nailing their international marketing strategies. You’ll find these names repeated time and again when it comes to looking at examples of global marketing and we will select a couple of brands from the following list to illustrate some key points:

  • Red Bull
  • AirBnb
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Domino’s
  • Nike
  • McDonald’s
  • Innocent Drinks
  • Coca-Cola
  • Spotify

All of these brands face very similar problems when it comes to marketing to international audiences and translating their messages into multiple languages. The purpose of this article is to help you learn from the best and overcome similar challenges for your own business.

Red Bull: A truly global brand

Do you know where Red Bull originates from? It was originally created in Thailand before Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz took the concept to Europe in 1987 and started producing his own energy drink called Red Bull.

Red Bull’s Kick-It event held in Korea, showcasing the country’s national martial art

The point is, Red Bull’s origins are not widely known (compared to Coca-Cola’s very obvious American affiliation), but this is the brand’s biggest strength. It has established itself as a product that feels at home in every target market, selling drinks and hosting sporting events for global and local tastes around the world.

The first step of creative translation is adapting your entire message and marketing strategy for each audience to make your brand feel like a home-made brand in every market.

McDonald’s: Understanding local tastes

For a company like McDonald’s, moving into Asian nations with very different culinary tastes and habits to its Western origins is a major challenge. Consider Vietnam, which was involved in a major war with America for decades and the ramifications are still ever-present. In fact, the first McDonald’s opened in the capital, Hanoi, in 2017 – despite having operated in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh (HCMC) for years.

Crucial to the fast food giant’s success was adapting its menu for local tastes, rather than assuming Vietnamese people would instantly adopt the idea of fast-food burgers. Visit a McDonald’s branch in HCMC now and you will see burgers aplenty being eaten – but the localised menu was vital for getting people on board and still is today for young kids, especially.

Innocent Drinks: Nailing creative translation

Once brands have adapted their offering to local tastes, the real translation process can begin. Instead of simply translating your original offer into new languages, you have adapted your message to capture local interests and you can now start thinking about specific languages.

For a brand like Innocent, which has a very niche but highly branded range of products, this is particularly challenging.

Taglines don’t translate easily and the lifestyle expectations of each target audience can vary greatly. So, instead of directly translating their messages into new languages, Innocent uses transcreation to recreate messages that evoke the target reaction from each audience. Instead of focusing on the meaning of its message, it aims to generate the same emotional response that makes its brand appealing, even if the wording is different.

The best international brands understand that it is the emotional reaction that matters most, rather than the specific words used to create it.

The key lessons from these international corporations is that creative translation starts with rethinking your entire message for each target audience. Interests vary around the world and you are going to struggle if you send out the same message to everyone. Once you’ve got your messages pinpoint, the translation process becomes about capturing the desired emotional reaction from audiences and you will often find direct translation fails to achieve this.

This is where transcreation takes over, focusing on achieving a desired meaning or reaction, instead of simply translating word-for-word.

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Posted on: November 13th, 2019