The case for authentic translations

Rune Pedersen, Think HQ's head of localisation, asks: are you treating multicultural audiences as an afterthought?

If you treat your translations like an afterthought, you’re treating your audience like an afterthought.

Whereas when you speak to someone in their language you are connecting on a profound level. You’re showing empathy and building trust; you’re showing that you have something in common.

You can’t do that if you’re creating a campaign for an audience and then, at the last minute, translating the words into a different language hoping the cultural references and literary flowers your English copywriters created will remain. Your campaign won’t connect. You’ll have missed an opportunity and wasted your resources.

We can’t speak effectively without listening first. Unfortunately, way too often we forgot to do just that. Especially with multicultural audiences, which make up a significant amount of the Australian population: 51.5% of us were born overseas or had parents born overseas, according to the 2021 Census.

If your audience speaks a language other than English, there are some foundational things you should consider:

  1. If your campaign is multilingual, your concept should be multilingual. Try to build a concept that works well across cultures and languages. English concepts and copywriting are often based on cultural phenomena and references or wordplay. Translating directly will sound unnatural or be straight up rude.
  2. Understand that no one size fits all: Typesetting and design will have other requirements depending on languages. For example, languages differ in length: your 30 second English script may become 45 seconds.
  3. Your audience will use different channels than what you are used to: Look at who you are developing a concept for. Develop a deep understanding of communities, and where to reach them to understand where the message should go. Are they listening to mass media, or their community leaders in WhatsApp groups?

It’s the process of doing this – of adapting your work to the cultural contexts of your audiences, that we call transcreation. Yes, it involved translation, but it’s more than that, and it’s necessary.

All modern campaigns should include transcreation to appeal to modern, multicultural communities. There are three stages of intervention where we apply transcreation to a campaign:

  1. Early-stage involvement
  2. Mid-stage involvement
  3. Late-stage involvement
  4. Early-stage involvement is at the conceptual stage – carving out your message before any copy is ready to be translated. This involves developmental research and concept testing to inform your audience segmentation and message, ensuring the message will be well received by the intended audience.

This is the gold standard, resulting in a campaign that authentically includes and represents everyone.

  1. Mid-stage involvement is when a creative concept for the ‘mainstream’ has already been conceptualised and to a large extent developed. At this stage it’s possible to retrofit the campaign according to your audience by making cultural analysis and informed adjustments to text and imagery.

At this stage, it’s often unlikely to pursue any new directions, so the biggest risk here is that your campaign premise doesn’t resonate with its multicultural audience.

Any agency worth their time will critically look at what’s been produced, advise you and help steer clear of any risks. Not only that, but ensure the message gets received in the best way possible.

  1. Late-stage involvement is when there is little option to create tailored and effective communication for your audience. Creative has been developed, copy has been written and now you’re looking to get it translated into a couple of languages you deem fit. At this stage, it’s unlikely that the result can truly resonate with audiences – many of whom are accustomed to getting materials ‘for someone else’ and so will probably tune out. This can work for tactical messaging like community updates or emergency information, but not for nuanced creative.

The reality is that most translation buyers are at a late stage when seeking professionals to translate campaigns, and it’s unfortunate, because the concept might not translate very well: literally and culturally. Translations purchases often becomes a cost saving exercise at this stage: how much can we get translated for the cheapest price? And unfortunately, the cheap price will be reflected into the product.

In summary, you need to think about all of your audiences from the conceptual phase to get the best outcome, rather than leaving them out.
It’s possible to create a concept that hits homes across the board, but you need to think about it intentionally.

This all sounds obvious – tailored campaigns work better – but it’s often neglected when thinking about multicultural audiences. By including transcreation as a potent tool in your toolkit, your campaigns will be more effective.

Rune Pedersen, Think HQ’s head of localisation


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