Personal & Professional Wisdom

That Bittersweet Marketing Translation

Read this: “The juxtaposition of fearlessness with utter indulgence. With a sophisticated tribute to perfumery’s most fabled material, Ambergris, this bold new juice combines the finest notes with the innate richness imbued by their contrasts.”

That’s how the world treats us, marketing translators – relentless, I know. I re-read that beautiful utterance five times to understand what the author of those two sentences wanted to convey. Can English native speakers relate?

Before joining the localization industry, I’d been translating from English into Russian for a few years and it was always a great pleasure to deliver marketing translations when I was not working on legal texts. Legal texts have their own charm and flavor, especially for perfectionists: strict terminology, certain stylistics, structure. But marketing texts are the place to have some freedom. You literally have to let your imagination flow and pretend you can smell that perfume.

I should say this freedom comes with big challenges. Marketing texts are usually full of vague and ambiguous expressions and metaphors that can be difficult to convert into the target language. And we should remember that our translator’s task is to make the reader feel that it is NOT a translation. You take a closer look at that monster made of letters and then – like a tangled wool ball – start to patiently loosen it and turn it into human language. The sweet part comes at the end, just be patient, and it’s one of the best feelings.

What I also like is that those texts educate you. I used to translate blogs for one Spanish estate agency and now I’m a professional on what to do (and what not to do) in Barcelona. Or, how else would I find out what Ambergris is? Want to know too? It is a substance produced by sperm whales and is highly valued by perfumers.

How to Translate Marketing Text

First, keep in mind that the purpose of marketing text is to sell: whether it is a product, a service, or maybe even a professional’s resume to a headhunter. It may be an IT company’s business proposal, a workshop for top managers or a presentation of a new Armani fragrance – these are all real examples from my experience. Your work should be catchy.

You need to know a local market and have a deep understanding about the audience to adapt your translation. When in Rome, do as Romans do. No literal translation. You should be able to integrate symbolism, metaphors, and emotional factors as a part of an original and appealing marketing concept.

A wrong translation can damage the image of a company. There are tons of articles about big corporations who presented their products to foreign markets with inappropriate slogans. For example, the Pepsi slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated in Taiwanese became, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead” – such an insult. Another example: when General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, the company was unaware that “No Va” meant, “It won’t go.” Awkward, right?

Tips for Translators

My advice for Russian translators is to use more verbs because they make texts more dynamic and avoid passive voice. Pay attention to headings: we do not write all words in capitals as it is common in English, for example.

More general advice for all languages: save tone of voice, use informal approach where it is appropriate, make it bright. Always check idioms and colloquial expressions. Get some rest before revising and editing your translation. And do not worry, it all comes with practice.

Marketing and PR texts can seem scary, but it is a very rewarding specialization. I once worked on translating children’s toothpaste descriptions and I felt utter satisfaction upon seeing them on display at a drug store in Moscow. No sugar, no paraben and 100% organic pleasure!