Marketing Translation Unveiled

Do you know what a “marketing translation” is? Do you think you can tell marketing translation from copywriting? Do you know where to look for information about marketing translations?

I want to introduce you to “marketing translation” from the perspective of a translator. I am not going to take into business or financial requirements aimed at getting better gross margins: It’s not my cup of tea. Instead, I want to show you the challenges encountered by translators when dealing with so-called “marketing translations”. I also want to keep things simple, so I am not going to present and elaborate on external theories and approaches to the phenomenon.

In this post I will focus in particular on the first challenge: Finding a common definition of what constitutes “marketing translation.”

Challenge #1: Finding a Common Definition

Ask any ten experts for a definition of marketing translation and you shall receive ten different answers. Is marketing translation the plain translation of a text related to marketing activities? Is it the same as copywriting? Is it transcreation? Or is it localization?

Let’s take a look at some definitions that I encountered:

• “More or less direct translation of the source text that maintains all the information from the source text and is not copywriting”

• “Translation that promotes a product or a service according to some guidelines”

• “Translation that allows to fulfill marketing objectives”

• “Text adaptation to market needs”

• “Technical text in rhyme”

• “Promotional texts”

• “I don’t know”

Some people define marketing translation by the function it should serve:

• “Promotes a product or a service according to some guidelines”

• “Uses marketing style”

• “Maintains all the information from the source text”

• “Does not maintain all the information from the source text”

• “Is cultural context sensitive”

• “Does not have to be faithful, must be effective”

• “Uses common terminology that everyone knows”

• “Allows to fulfill marketing objectives”

• “Focuses on style, not information (positive and friendly message, introducing an idea)”

• “Is closer to a target reader than a plain text”

• “Should meet vague and imprecise customer expectations to avoid situations where the customer gets the translation and then knows what he did not want to get”

• “Needs more creativity than an average translation”

• “Induces the same emotion on people from different countries and cultures”

So, let’s try to produce a definition of marketing translation.

Marketing translation (or marcom translation) is the translation of marketing communications content.

The two ultimate objectives of marketing translation are the same as for copywriting:
1. Engaging the reader and
2. persuading the reader to buy a product or subscribe to a certain viewpoint.

To achieve these objectives, a marketing translator will read the translation brief (a document that outlines the objectives, audience, and assumptions for the project), do research on the customer’s website and go through the reference material made available by the customer before proceeding with the actual translation.

As marketing translation always deals with predetermined content—which is often more difficult to translate than coming up with new concepts and content from scratch as in copywriting—the translator will attempt to adhere to the style of the source text, but is not responsible for finding the exact words to promote the product in question or otherwise persuade the reader (which is the copywriter’s job).

So, marketing translation differentiates itself from simple translation or from localization by the many extra steps performed on top of the standard translation process. It also differs from copywriting because the translator is not ultimately responsible for the target verbal or textual content.

There are six steps in the process of conveying a marketing message to foreign target audiences:

six steps in the process of conveying a marketing message to foreign target audiences




Here comes the concept of transcreation into play. Can localization be considered the same as transcreation? At Lionbridge, we define transcreation as the creative adaptation of marketing, sales and advertising copy from a source language into one or more target languages. It involves additional (and sometimes different) steps on top of a traditional translation or localization processes.

Here are some of the differences between adaptation and translation (extracted from “Do you believe in transcreation?):

• “Adaptation supports marketing. Translation is much more general.”

• “Adaptation involves changing both words and meaning but keeping the attitude and persuasive effect. Translation involves changing words but keeping meanings.”

• “We describe successful adaptation with words such as “bold” and “creative.” We describe successful translation with words such as “faithful.” “

• “Adaptation inevitably requires a team (or a series of teams). Translation can be done by an individual (though independent proofreaders are often involved).”

In other words, we can say that adaptation/transcreation is to translation what copywriting is to writing.

Therefore, can we conclude that the concepts of marketing translation and transcreation overlap? Based on what we’ve just learned, I would say: Yes, we can.

Of course, the above definition of marketing translation is only a proposal. It would be good to have the language industry agree on common definition of marketing translation to ensure that everybody “speaks the same language” throughout the world.

2 Replies

  1. Pingback: Marketing Translation Unveiled | Global Language & Translation « Blog

  2. Cristina Najam - January 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm Reply

    Very interesting and very well said. I have to say it can be challenging at times, but I find it much more interesting than a regular translation.

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