Marc-André Robitaille

Director, Translation

Small, venti or global…how do you want your message?

We all know that quote by Marshall McLuhan from his book Understanding Media: “The medium is the message”, and when it comes to media, there’s a wide range of them: micro-medium, brand-medium, and global medium or message.

As translator-adaptors in marketing communication, we’re the first readers of the message, and the message’s lineage involves a lot of people, and the message can sometimes get altered from one person to the next.

However, that message starts from an initial idea and has a specific purpose. So, it should just be a matter of moving it along following specific rules based on the medium and the intended audience. In our experience, each of the message’s “relatives” gives it a slant, consciously or otherwise, toward his/her area of expertise: the product manager dots the message with technical information; the editor makes the necessary stylistic or logical connections; the billing specialist ensures that the prices for the product are clearly and accurately indicated; and the legal advisor ensures that there is no ill-advised information.

You’d think that, with a village like this, the child would be well educated. But the action of those relatives leave traces. A little word changed here by the accountant, a verb agreement changed by the lawyer, and the amount moved somewhere else in the sentence by the product manager are all actions that could distort the message and impair its effectiveness.

This is where teamwork becomes meaningful. Every player must work with all his/her team members during the same phase of the project. And that teamwork extends to adaptation.

To deliver an effective message, the following aspects are essential:

  • Thorough planning: preparatory meetings, communication of objectives, pooling of resources, and collaborative work;
  • A clear set of style rules: a style guide communicated to everyone and customized for the language, medium and target audiences;
  • Ongoing communication among the participants: getting all players involved right from the outset, from the idea-people to the adaptors.

It’s important to remember that a message thought up in one language and one culture may not adapt very well to others. Adaptation time needs to be planned that is longer that just ill-considered translation! It’s even necessary to be open-minded about the fact that, for the message to be effective in other languages and cultures, it can differ significantly from the original.

This is where turning to adaptation specialists is essential. A simple word, a simple image, may need to be revised, and corrected, in order to work well... or better, while maintaining the effectiveness aimed for at the outset.

Recall, with a smile, these few examples of poorly adapted branding:

  • A U.S. manufacturer of condensed milk didn’t know why its sales were so low... until a francophone explained that not many people would like the taste of Pet [Fart] condensed milk (the trademark).
  • A U.S. car manufacturer didn’t understand the reluctance of Spanish-speaking nations regarding its Nova brand, until it knew the meaning in Spanish of No va: “doesn’t go”.
  • A U.S. airline didn’t look very good in its campaign in Mexico when attempting to boast about its leather seats: “Vuela encuero.” However, this typo (instead of "Vuela en cuero") ended up changing its message from “Fly in Leather” to “Fly Undressed”.

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