Marketing Translations: How Creative Is a Translator Allowed to Be?

Creative Marketing Translations (c) Marie

I was given the amazing opportunity to publish my view on creative marketing translations in the famous ITI Bulletin of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. The following article contains excerpts first published in “Off the Beaten Trackˮ, ITI Bulletin January/Februari 2018.

Marketing translations come with two challenges:

  • Social Media has revolutionized communication and content marketing is currently all the rage. And that means a whole lot for your marketing translations. They are not only about mirroring your message in a different language anymore. They also need to stand out in the abundance of information that customers face every day.

  • Marketing copy (and yes, that includes its translations) aims at a reaction: it wants consumers to share content, visit a website, look for further info or come to an event. And to eventually swipe their credit cards.

But different markets mean different customs. Standing out and creating the effect you wish for might need different words in Germany than in the US. And that’s why marketing translations often need creative adaptations of the source text.

So, how far from the source text is a translator actually allowed to go? Read further to learn when and how a translator should stay away from the source text and feel absolutely confident about it.

Creatively adapting the source text – three indications that it’s necessary

A headline that makes people in France drop everything to visit your online store might – literally translated – not have the same effect in the UK. Here are the indicators that show when translators need to get away from the original text:

  1. The source text includes cultural particularities, humour, irony, idioms, metaphors, rhymes or word plays that can’t be understood by the target audience if translated literally.

  2. The tonality or style of the source text either doesn‘t appeal to readers in the target country or doesn’t create the intended effect.

  3. Conventions, customs or unspoken rules are different from one country to another.

How to get away from the source text without getting lost

Whatever the pinch or pint of creativity needed, you certainly don't want your brand to get lost in the middle of the translation process. Your marketing translator should therefore

  • provide a translation of the original that keeps the corporate identity and brand values in mind while at the same time

  • carefully adapting the source text if necessary in order to create the desired effect on the target market and by

  • openly communicating with you (the client) at all times so you can decide on changes together.

For you as a client, three simple “watchouts” can ensure that a marketing translation is both accurate and at the same time correctly adapted to your target market:

  1. Creative brief: along with the source text, you should send your translator a creative brief so they can understand the company, the brand, the product or service and ist positioning, the target group, the desired style and tonality and the intention of the text.

  2. Ask: check with your translator where and why a literal translation won’t work.

  3. Communicate: ask for back translations, explanations and provide feedback. Decide together which solution will work best.

Dear fellow translators,

So maybe there is a certain word that is the 100 percent accurate translation of the word in the original text. But press the pause button just a second.

That word might be less idiomatic, less clear, less captivating than another option you could create.

Dear clients in search for excellency,

Make sure you brief your translator accordingly: Do you have a legal document that needs 100 % accuracy? Or do you have marketing copy that’s supposed to trigger emotions? Both types of translation have their own right. Which one do you need?

There is a lot of guidance your translator can give you regarding their market. They can point out cultural differences, help avoid pitfalls and find solutions that both work for your brand and your customers.

Marketing translators are not only linguists but sales agents on a foreign market.

The more you embrace the role of your translator as a linguistic and cultural consultant, the better translation (and business results) you‘ll get.

Photo Credit: Marie Maerz /