MARKETING TRANSLATION – a different kind of beast

/Author: Doris Sootla, translator-editor, copyeditor/

A great way for understanding the distinctive nature of marketing translation is to compare it to legal translation. Legal translations require extreme faithfulness to the target text. Oftentimes the translator is hard at work trying to make sure that nothing gets lost when exchanging terms of one language and legal system with the terms of a different language and completely different legal system. These texts are not compiled with the aim of pleasing the reader; in fact, literary merit should be the last thing on your mind when making sure that your employment contract does not include any excessive restrictions or obligations.

The text needs to sell

Marketing translation, however, is a completely different beast. A great translator will now take the informative content of the source text and shape it into a target text that matches the context, aim, cultural sphere and audience of the text and product. Virtually all marketing texts aim to sell something. And sales are most effective when your audience likes your product, likes what you have to say about the product, and essentially, likes you. A likeable text is not only dependent on its factual information, but also whether or not you enjoy reading it.

Creativity is a good thing

Take for example repetitions – in legal texts, repeating terms is vital to ensure that there is no trace of ambiguity in a document and that no-one can later seek out loopholes, which would allow them to avoid contractual obligations. However, when one stays too close to the original when translating marketing texts (keeping the word order of the source text and translating expressions word-for-word), the resulting translation is bound to sound clunky and unnatural.

A good text creates trust

A marketing text should also foster trust in potential buyers. This is impossible when a text fails to sound like it was written by someone fluent in the given language. Our brains automatically interpret unnatural and awkward-sounding texts as unprofessional and not at all trustworthy. This can’t be helped – people do not want to do business with those who they cannot trust.

Clarify your goal with the text before anything else

As previously mentioned, a translator of a marketing text needs to fine-tune their translation based on the aim and audience of the text. This is why it is important that the client provides us with as much information on a project they have, or can legally share. It is immensely beneficial when a client describes the goal, format, target group, context and layout of the text. A few examples:

  • Let’s say you have given a presentation about your field of research and need the summary of the presentation to be translated in order to send it to an academic journal as an abstract. It is absolutely vital that you point out that the text, which was initially presented in person, will now have to fit the requirements of academic style of writing.

A speech is going to be very different from something that is meant to be submitted in writing, and rightfully so. Speeches call for simpler sentence structure and fillers that are characteristic to the target language, whereas abstracts benefit from academic language and more complex sentence structure. There is nothing inherently wrong with either type of target texts, but each has their specific aim and therefore needs a different approach.

  • It is also important to specify the target audience of a text. Say for example that you are advertising a new dental care procedure. Who is it aimed for? – dentists or patients? Something overly specific and technical is only going to confuse patients, maybe even deter them from trying out the seemingly complex and frightening procedure. However, dentists would find little value in a text that fails to explain specifics and merely describes what a lovely smile one is going to have as a result of the procedure. Different target groups have different needs and interests.
  • Another aspect worthy of mention is design. If you already know what layout you are going to use on a website, it is not in anyone’s best interest to leave the translator in the dark. Compiling everything that needs to be translated into a single block of text and sending it off without any layout instructions should be avoided. This is because design plays an important role in how sentences should be formed, how certain phrases ought to be capitalized and how many punctuation marks to use (for example, it is good form to avoid overcrowding minimalist websites with punctuation marks after each bullet point). Providing sufficient layout information can be as simple as just giving the translator access to an unpublished version of your new website that needs translation.

To sum up, marketing translation is at its best when everyone involved has been given plenty of information about your product or service, its consumers, and your preferred medium.

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