Tuesday, January 26, 2010

GIGO and Marketing Jargon

I am immensely grateful to Lauren Nemec from Applied Languages for the posting on why it is almost impossible to translate marketing crap from English into other languages, especially ones where obfuscation is not a measure of intellectual agility.

A few years back we landed a project for a tourism authority who wanted to "sell" what their area offered to the Arab World. They hired a copywriting company full of young heads and a month later we were presented with 80 pages of "young-head-Aussie" text.

Everything was "unique". And I mean EVERYTHING. Like, each sunset was unique. The sands on the beach were unique. You shopped in a unique atmosphere, buying unique clothes in unique boutiques, sipping unique coffee in unique cafes on unique streets lined with unique trees. And so on, and so forth..

And then there was the very relative, totally undefined term "fun". Getting wet on a unique waterslide was fun as was drying in the similarly unique air funnel. Eating out is fun. Driving down to Brisbane on the congested motorway was "fun". Kids were going to have fun and so were adults, and the dog and the cat.. and your wallet, I assume.

Amazing. Wonderful. Indescribable (how can you write about an indescribable entity, let alone translate it?)

As Nemec says in her blog, it was meant to impress. I translated. The agent in the Middle East read it, convened a phone meeting, and said very clearly: "The translation is very good. Change your copywriters. The English copy is crap."

The error that many companies in the English speaking world fall into is that they think they can smother opposition by the sheer amount of incomprehensible jargon. That might well work for some at the local level, mostly those who speak the same GIGO dialect. But when you translate your materials to Arabic, Polish, or even German (just to mention a few of the ones I know), information is paramount. Information, and cultural sensitivity.

The unique young-heads at the copywriting company did not even bother to think whether what they were saying would be acceptable, let alone attractive, to the Arab audience. So they put in bars and nightclubs as attractions - unique, mind you, until your third glass of whiskey, after which all nightclubs look the same. They marketed open air saunas for both sexes, and marriage ceremonies atop an air balloon. They waxed lyrical (amazing, unique, etc) about wine tours and working dog shows. And, to make things worse, they did not actually explain what all this was about.

I wonder how many of us would pay heavy money to go somewhere overseas for the sole purpose of watching sunsets, get mud baths, and spend the night in a night club drinking. Heavy money, because Arab tourists come over with wives (often a few per one male) and a progeny line the size of a football club. They come mostly to shop. Singapore is cheaper, and their Tourism Board material actually INFORMATIVE (we know, we did it). So Australia loses potential tourism income because we just can't think in other people's ways. It is all unique, mind you.

Someone out there needs to write a cross-cultural marketing course geared at young-airheads.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at http://www.arabic.com.au/.

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