Like it or not, we live in a global world. And a lot of the recognisable brands we use have a global footprint. So does tone of voice work when it's translated.
By Jove, I've got it!
Our brand tone of voice will be playful and disruptive.
We'll phrase things in a very colloquial way, but be brash and upbeat.
Great, but what about business and what about ze Germans.
A challenge that most copywriters have to face is having to explain the brand tone of voice to Keith from Go To Market.
They don't really need to understand what the third pillar of "empathetic" means, but they question it.
Then you get the people who work in B2B that say, "you can't talk to business people like that".
Why, they're people too. And do you think the CEO or his PA knows everything there is to know about big data and cloud based solutions (urgh).
These justifications become harder when you're writing for a completely different country.
When you only have cultural stereotypes to go by and no natives who are also copywriters to ask.
Luckily (for me), the English speaking territories are vast and lucrative. And English is a widely-spoken language across the Middle East, Africa, India and the Nordics. However, in Europe (as in the EU member states) there are 24 working and official languages.
Even though we share so much culture with our continental neighbours through music, art, TV and film. And our high streets are virtually identical, there are too many cultural differences to have one copy doc and get that translated.
Often, you need to have a set of principles and a master language (English, in my case) - this is then used to transcreate copy, so it keeps the "playful" and "disruptive" elements but makes complete sense to local readers.
There are cases, for example, I wrote a customer email aimed at people who hadn't completed their registration, the subject line was "Was it something we said?" - the aim was to be chatty and playful, while completely understanding where the customer was i the journey.
When this was sent to the agency to be transcreated, they had no idea what these five words meant. Something so ubiquitous and innocuous had foxed an agency where English was spoken to an impressive level (I actually quipped that they speak English better than most English people).
Of all the language nuances I thought I would have to explain in my master copy, I didn't think "was it something we said?" would be one of them.
They transcreated "take a comfort break" without fuss. They even got most of my puns in the articles I wrote. Yet this tripped them up.
There are also issues when you're trying to disruptive in another language as, just like anywhere else, there is a tendency to conform to how things are done.
Dogma is something you can't argue with when you're unfamiliar with the local language and culture. Germany is very formal and the tones of voice there isn't quite where it is in the UK, Australia, US and Scandinavia.
Also, the humour is different. What the witty British would consider funny is totally different to what the Germans find amusing.
My top tips for managing this is:
- Write a master copy in your language for agencies/local copywriter can transcreate
- Never do a direct translation of any copy - but don't strip out personality
- Have a house style guide and ask a native speaker to own it
- Sit with your agency/copywriter and get them to translate what they've done
- Capture any nuances you might find along the way
- Present your strategy to a transcreation agency face-to-face and ask them to feed into it - adapting it where necessary
- Be disruptive, but be sensitive to local tastes and established behaviours
- Research what good creative looks like in those countries
- Good creative is good, regardless of territory
- Don't conform to cultural stereotypes - although the Germans are very efficient and put work first, they do actually have a good sense of humour...