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Yesterday, Else Gellinek wrote a guest blog post for NYA Communications called, “The many aspects of marketing translation: A German-American case study”. This article is a case study on the U.S. versus German websites for the Smart car. It is an excellent evaluation of the two sites, how they are different, and why. It clearly shows what I’ve been talking about for a while: Translating marketing content is not easy. Marketing content is emotional and emotions don’t translate.

In a nutshell, here is what Else says:

Germans expect information presented in a straightforward way. They are not chummy and they don’t want to start a relationship with you. They want to be informed, understand the car’s features and benefits, and then drive it away. Try to use this tone in the U.S. and you will bore your potential customers, who will then go off and purchase a Mini Cooper instead.

Americans, on the other hand, want marketing material to be fun. They want to be excited. They want you to speak to them as if they are your new best friend. Try to use this tone in Germany and you will likely fail. Chummy is not what their culture dictates. Don’t do it.

Else points out many things about the websites:

  • The German site uses a photo of the economical hardtop: reliable, eco-friendly.
  • The U.S. site uses a photo of the coupe: fun.
  • The German car is green and white. Green is the color of eco-friendly products.
  • The U.S. car is bright yellow. Did I mention fun?
  • The tagline for the German site: “Zukunft, die heute schon fährt,” or “The future of motoring has arrived.”
  • The tagline for the U.S. site: (You guess it…) “It’s fun. It’s zippy. It’s the kind of car that makes you smile.”

Else also gives us a very interesting tidbit. The website copy in the UK is in English. Yet, it is not the same as the U.S. site. it is closer to the German copy. What she says (and I agree) is:

This neatly demonstrates that marketing translations also need to focus on the specific target market and not just linguistic and cultural aspects. Who is the translation for? What are the demographics of the buyers the copy is meant to persuade?

Take a read of her post. Then go back and read my article on transcreation. See how it all makes sense now?

Val Swisher
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