Recent Good Articles About Bad Writing

Recently I’ve read a number of good articles about bad writing. As a large part of my working day is spent making bad writing better (and, hopefully, making good writing a greater joy to read), I have to admit that I love this kind of article.

Many of my clients are non-native English speakers. Even those who are very skilled in expressing themselves in English are apt to run afoul of its devilishly tricky rules of placement. James Harbeck just wrote a very good post on the importance of correct adverb placement. I can imagine that you’re ready to click off this page without reading one more word, but have a little patience and take a look at the ways that adverb placement can change the meaning of a sentence. Harbeck uses the example of what would seem to be the simplest of adverbs: honestly. He asks the reader to compare the meaning conveyed by this adverb when it is placed in six different positions in a sentence. As we read the list, it’s obvious that we should all be more careful about where we insert an adverb in a sentence. Are we really saying what we set out to say?

 Compare:

Honestly, I can’t say what the problem is [I am speaking honestly to you and I say I can’t say what the problem is]

I can’t honestly say what the problem is [I cannot make an honest statement of the problem]

I can’t say honestly what the problem is [I can only make dishonest statements about the problem]

I can’t say, honestly, what the problem is [I tell you that I cannot say – and I am speaking honestly to you – what the problem is]

I can’t say what the problem is honestly [If I try to say what the problem is, I will do so dishonestly]

I can’t say what the problem is, honestly [I say I can’t say what the problem is, and I am speaking honestly to you]

Spanish allows for a great deal of flexibility as far as placement within a sentence goes, and a good number of my clients give themselves the same leeway in English that they enjoy in Spanish. Occasionally my queries to non-native authors look very much like Harbeck’s list—if necessary, in a series of “back” translations that explore all the possible interpretations. However, native speakers also make placement errors. I always get a good laugh out of the errors people send to Michael Quinion for his language website and newsletter World Wide Words. For example, even the writers churning out content for the BBC News website make placement errors. World Wide Words reader Stephen Turner noted that on May 18, 2011, the BBC news let this little howler slip out: “She arrived with the Duke of Edinburgh by her side in a dress adorned with 2,091 hand sewn embroidered shamrocks.” I should hope that the Duke of Edinburgh has more sense than to wear a dress adorned with 2,091 hand sewn embroidered shamrocks, but one never knows. Once another reader wrote in to report that during an ABC24 news program broadcast in Sydney, Australia, the newsreader said that a “motorcyclist was killed when he hit a car not wearing a helmet.” I think that one provides a very clear picture of the importance of where things go in a sentence.

Apart from poets and novelists, anyone writing in any language who has even a modest ambition to share his or her ideas with a larger public should remember to write clearly and simply. I also recently enjoyed Lucy Kellaway’s 2011 “guff” list in the Financial Times. Kellaway keeps track of the most florid and nonsensical business writing she reads all year and doles out annual awards to the worst offenders. As she notes as an introduction to this year’s list, “There is an economic law that says all markets are cyclical save one: the bullshit market, which knows only the bull phase.”

This year’s top award went to Cisco System’s John Chambers for the punchy, but completely meaningless statement “We will accelerate our leadership across our five priorities and compete to win in the core.” In the euphemism department, the kudos went to telecommunication giant Nokia, for stating that the company operations were being “managed for value” rather than honestly saying that management had been forced to fire thousands of people worldwide. My favorite this year was the confession “The challenge for me is to re-aggregate the big picture, while throwing my arms around as much of the density of complexities as possible, distilling them down to their most basic constituents and plugging them back into the picture.” Even the world’s most successful CEOs could benefit from reading a bit of Harbeck now and then.

More links to articles I’ve read recently (in English and Spanish) can be found at Jenni Lukac Linguistic Services at Google+.

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Tourism, Talent, and Trade : Improving a City’s Brand Positioning

Improving a city’s brand positioning

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my post about the Best of Germany national image campaign, the British Institute of Internal Communications newsletter ran an article about effective communications that mentioned the City of Edinburgh’s integral branding program. I was so impressed by what Edinburgh has done to help businesses and institutions implement the cohesive promotional strategy it has developed that I decided to mention it in this blog. As was the case in The Best of Germany campaign, Edinburgh’s Inspiring Capital campaign was as much about improving  average citizens’ sense of identity and civic spirit as it was about projecting an image abroad. By transforming them into engaged stakeholders, Marketing Edinburgh gave residents of the city and surrounding region a more positive image of themselves as a collective social unit and built a broad base of local support for the initiative.

The Marketing Edinburgh initiative is a model for any city or region that seeks to engage local stakeholders in the promotion of its identity, image, and brand. While its  public-oriented websites cater to Edinburgh insiders, business tourism clients, people interested in visiting, living, working, investing, or studying in Edinburgh, and even film producers looking for the right location for their production, its back office operations support a unified community promotional strategy designed to involve the public sector, private industry, and educational and cultural institutions in the project. The front office and back office meld perfectly, for example, in the site designed to promote film production in Scotland:

Great Locations, Great Attitude 

Edinburgh Film Focus is the local Film Commission for Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders.

If you’re working on a feature film, short film, TV drama, commercial, corporate, documentary, pop promo or stills shoot, we’re here to help. Let the following pages bring this area into focus.

Our FREE service can help you with:

LOCATIONS From medieval castles to wild coastlines, from historic ‘Old Town’ to modern thriving city life, from Georgian townhouses to palatial mansions. Access our huge, easy-to-use library of location images online.

REGISTER your property with us as a potential film location. We keep a database of thousands of possible film locations and are always looking for new locations of all sorts, so if you’re interested in the possibility of filming at your property, please get in touch.

FILMING Check out how we can help with filming and parking permits, funding and incentives and other services. Find out who else has filmed here already, where Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders are, what our weather is like and many other FAQs.

PRODUCTION GUIDE Our online directory of experienced local crew, film services and production companies will help you find the right people at a budget that suits.

Or you can keep updated with regular NEWS reports on the latest developments in our filming community.

We hope you enjoy using this website. We are always delighted to receive your calls or emails, so please contact us anytime.

NEW ADDRESS
Edinburgh Film Focus, now part of Marketing Edinburgh Ltd
1a Glenfinlas St
Edinburgh
EH3 6AQ
Direct: +44 (0)131 622 7337

STOP PRESS: FILM FINANCE
By filming in Edinburgh, the Lothians and/or the Scottish Borders you may be eligible to apply for:
UK Tax Credit – up to 25% of 80% of qualifying UK spend. Visit the UK Film Council for details.
Creative Scotland screen investment – up to £300,000 content production finance. Visit Creative Scotland for details.

Helping small- and medium-sized businesses communicate a city brand through the implementation of a user-friendly support program

Edinburgh Film Focus is just one example of how cooperation between government agencies and private organizations can help a wide range of stakeholders reduce costs, lock in business, and reach common goals. Marketing Edinburgh makes it particularly easy for small- and medium-sized institutions and businesses to become involved in (and benefit from) the alliance. Registration is free and even those who don’t register are given access to information about graphic materials designed to promote the city, sound advice about how to use them effectively, and case studies illustrating how they have been implemented.

The downloadable communications package available through the Marketing Edinburgh website includes a custom logo, color scheme, and typeface, as well as several style guides that offer clear advice concerning how to make optimal use of these elements and what combinations to avoid. The site also features a stock photo library that not only includes recognizable Edinburgh points of interest, but also generic images of the type used to illustrate content about conference centers, business services, restaurants, and hotels. The stock photo library is an attractive resource for communication professionals dealing with limited budgets and tight time frames and a clever mechanism for ensuring that stock images used to showcase Edinburgh are high quality and that even detail shots of cobblestones, flora and fauna, and restaurant and meeting room interiors were really taken in the city they purport to illustrate.

Marketing Edinburgh also provides a list of quotes about the city made by famous visitors ranging from Cristina Aguilera to Andrew Carnegie that can be used to dress up copy about the city. In his day, Henry James considered Edinburgh’s Princes Street to be one of the most impressive thoroughfares in Europe. More recently Beyonce said, “I love the people here, they are so friendly and nice. Edinburgh is a really classy city.”

However, what caught the attention of the British Institute of Internal Communications was the website’s short tutorial on the tone of voice copywriters should adopt when writing about the city. Like everything else in the Marketing Edinburgh branding packet, this advice is tailor-made. The organization carried out extensive research on what made Edinburgh a distinctive place to visit, invest in, or live. It then created a brand pyramid that listed the characteristics that supported the new city logo “Inspiring Capital.” The Edinburgher tone of voice provided the foundation for the values, and personality traits that informed the overall brand—how we communicate with others really is important. According to the group’s research, Edinburghers are imaginative, vibrant, determined, authentic, and confident. In terms of a tone of voice for communications, the guide suggests exploiting these concepts without betraying their integrity. It even provides a series of copyediting editing tips for crafting better communications and before and after examples:

EDINBURGH TONE OF VOICE COMPARISONS – VISIT

Original text:

As well as the world’s greatest arts festival in August, Edinburgh
also hosts several other notable events throughout the rest of the
year. One of these is the Hogmanay, which has grown to be one of
the world’s major winter events.

Codyedited text:

Two of the world’s best parties in one city. What are the chances?
Edinburgh heralds the new year in style with its legendary
Hogmanay and crowns the summer by serving up the greatest
arts festival on the planet.

Characteristics:

– A bold claim to open
– A question to challenge and engage
– Rich language (legendary, heralds, crowns) positions Edinburgh firmly on the world stage

This example explains how to work the key word “vibrant” into a text about Edinburgh as a place to live:

Original text:

THE SECOND BEST ‘BUZZ’ IN BRITAIN

There’s a real buzz about Edinburgh – and that’s a fact. In a survey
commissioned by fashion chain DKNY, Scotland’s capital  came
second only to Cambridge in a top 10 of UK cities with ‘buzz appeal’.

Copyediting text:

BUZZ

The vibrant city of Edinburgh has outshone London, Manchester,
Glasgow and Birmingham to claim second place in a ‘buzz appeal’
survey of UK cities. Scotland’s capital is seeking to topple Cambridge
from top spot in the table which takes into account each city’s
economy, culture and energy

Characteristics:

– Bold headline
– Explicit use of ‘vibrant’
– Light allusions (outshone) are a metaphor for imagination
and complement sound allusions (buzz) adding richness
States a vision to be first – striving

By offering marketing materials, stock images, and advice about how to tailor communications around the Edinburgh city brand, Marketing Edinburgh makes it easier for communications professionals to incorporate the campaign’s elements into a wide range of documents. Companies and organizations are encouraged to use the logo and key words in all their communications, from employment advertisements, catalogues, and letterheads to street banners. Standard city branding materials such as pop-up stands, banners, fact sheets, bags, pens, and lapel pins can be also ordered directly through the website.

Early planning and research for the Marketing Edinburgh initiative were carried out through the Scottish government’s Cities Growth Fund. Since 2008, the project has been fully funded by the City of Edinburgh Council. The Edinburgh city brand program is an example of what can be accomplished with a long-term government commitment, regional coordination and cooperation, and a comprehensive and effective plan to improve the quality of audiovisual and written communication across the board.

Not all cities and towns have the economic and population base needed to mount an initiative similar to Edinburgh’s  Inspiring Capital campaign. What can your city do to project a powerful  and positive image if it has a population of less than 600 and an average household income of $25,000? A lot. Just ask the folks who live in Quinhagak, Alaska. The two places share a few key characteristics: attributes such as imagination, a vibrant personality, determination, authenticity, and confidence, a love of local fresh salmon, and a  bilingual identity. A recent Christmas video produced by the  fifth grade class of a local school as a class project is going viral worldwide this holiday season. One Internet site claims that it has registered over half a million views. If you’d like to see a truly original video version of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, a cleverly conceived and executed  idea that fuses image and text, and get to know the people of Quinhagak, Alaska, here’s your chance. Thanks to Phil Freshman of the Association of Art Editors for the link to the video and Merry Christmas and congratulations to the fifth graders at Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat school. You’ve warmed the hearts of people all over the world and put your hometown on the map.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

QR codes and publishing: Editoras creates a “living” book

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to a recent article in Galleycat if I hadn’t just finished translating a customer satisfaction survey that mentioned QR codes. For the uninitiated, QR (short for quick response) codes are those psychedelic–looking square codes that are increasingly popping up everywhere these days. They were originally developed for the automotive industry but are now used for a wide variety of applications. The Japanese government, for instance, uses QR codes in visas embedded in passports.

According to Galleycat, a book of QR codes created as part of a viral publicity campaign for Brazil’s Editoras Online has been one of the hits of the Mediabistro Publishing App Expo. Editoras Online is the Brazilian equivalent to Amazon.com. Like every bookseller, Editoras keeps a sharp eye on customer trends and searches for new ways to engage the digitally savvy youth market. This year it teamed up with DDB Brazil to create a citywide viral campaign that reached out to young audiences through mobile technology.

To launch the campaign, workers slapped 4,000 stickers bearing 200 different encrypted QR code messages on almost every imaginable type of exterior surface throughout the city of Sao Paolo. Each sticker carried one of two key theme messages: hate and love. By scanning the QR code with a mobile phone, readers received a text message related to love or hate. People following the campaign’s Twitter profile were invited to tweet their own short phrases about love or hate that were subsequently linked to a QR code and made available to the general public via the QR code stickers.  According to Editoras, these codes were updated with new phrases on a weekly basis.

Editoras simultaneously produced a bound book titled C.A.O.S. (colectivo amor e ódio em segundos) containing the 200 QR codes created for the campaign. It became an instant must-have item and sold out within a week of its release. For as long as the Twitter campaign remains active, readers will enjoy a perpetually evolving “living book.” However long the company’s commitment to renovate the content lasts, the campaign has provided great PR for its business and boosted online sales.

While Editoras’ C.A.O.S. project could qualify as conceptual art, authors and publishers are beginning to experiment with more some of QR technology’s more practical applications for book production. As Mick Winkler points out in Scan Me – Everybody’s Guide to the Magical World of QR Codes, this technology offers many tantalizing possibilities for authors, publishers, and readers. For instance, QR codes applied to the back cover of a book could provide an undecided shopper with a link to the author’s or publisher’s website or blog where he or she could browse through a more detailed author biography, discussion forums, readers’ recommendations, and information about awards, book-signing events, or special deals on audio book versions. Readers could also give the book a “like” rating or sign up to receive a publisher’s or author’s newsletter. QR codes have a number of creative applications between a book’s covers: placed on a specific page, they can provide readers to links offering supplementary material such as maps, audio or video content, or clues to a mystery. The same technology could be used effectively in textbooks, either to update material or provide supplementary maps, charts, audiovisual content, and other information. All of these applications come with the same caveat: all links for CR codes embedded in books must be made to incredibly stable sources if the “living” book is to fulfill its claim to interactivity over time.

An article written by Patrick Burgoyne for Creative review.org offers detailed information about Editoras’ living book project and documentation of some of the locations where QR were placed through the city of Sao Paolo. It also features two videos that give a full description of the campaign. I recommend watching both, but I have to admit that I was fascinated by the shorter of the two that documented how the printed book was “checked” with a mobile phone before release to ensure that each code correctly generated a text message. It made me wonder when I’ll be asked to proof and copyedit a book via my mobile phone. Would it be love or hate from the very first second? Even if it sounds like total chaos at first, I’ve learned to never say never in this business when it comes to technology.

Have you heard the one about the two cows? Translating a national image to a global public

Over the years I’ve received various versions of a joke that is basically about foreign perceptions of political and national identities. Every version of this running gag revolves around the theoretical ownership of two cows and gives pithy, if stereotypical, descriptions of what corporations in a wide range of cultures and of differing political persuasions would do with such an asset. Although this endlessly evolving joke has poked fun at the French, German, Chinese, Italian, and American ways of doing things, I am always a bit surprised that a stereotypical Spanish outlook on life and business has never surfaced in the versions I’ve received. It was precisely the absence of a Spanish stereotype in this joke that inspired me to use it as the basis of a writing exercise when I taught English to Spaniards years ago. When a new version recently cropped up in Google+, I scanned the countries mentioned, but Spain still hadn’t made the list. Although new countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and India had been added to the circulating compendium of cultural identities, it appears that the world in general still doesn’t have a clue what a Spanish corporation would do with two cows. Is this important? Well, yes, from a national public relations perspective, it is important. Projecting a positive, coherent, national image abroad lays the groundwork for achieving a wide range of any nation’s foreign policy objectives, from boosting exports to negotiating international treaties.

No country can afford to be lax about its international image in the digital age. The communication potential of the Internet is enormous, and the image that a nation projects beyond its borders is increasingly important in a globalized world. One of the best recent examples of a public relations initiative designed to improve a country’s image abroad is Germany’s “Welcome to Germany, Land of Ideas” campaign. When the city of Frankfurt was chosen to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the German government made a conscious decision to use the event to launch a broader national public relations effort designed to do more than promote German sport and tourism; the plan was to utilize the world’s momentary focus on Germany to communicate a radically new image of German society abroad. The time had come to change international perceptions that Germans were inhospitable, ill-humored, brusque, bureaucratic, and arrogant.

The project engineers (the federal government, the German tourist board, and the local organizing committee) deftly exploited the interactivity of Internet to mobilize all sectors of German society and spur citizen involvement in the process of determining how the country should go about promoting itself. The local organizing committee worked hand in hand with the Ministry of the Interior. From the very start, the campaign was structured as an open process that offered incentives for participating. German embassies all over the world were provided with a marketing kit designed not only to promote tourism in Germany during the World Cup but also to create a more dynamic image of German society abroad. Two years before the event, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs was given the responsibility for launching a website in nine languages devoted to football in Germany. A program of cultural events  was funded through (I thought I’d faint when I read this) the Nationale DFB Kulturstiftung GmbH—the German football federation’s cultural foundation.

The campaign took risks and faced the darkest hours of Germany’s past head on. According to a post-campaign report written by Saskia and Gernot Brauer, “To counter the old stereotypes of how Germany is seen internationally, the German academic exchange program DAAD had organised an essay competition for students in the UK entitled ‘But don’t mention the war’ the year before the World Cup. This quotation refers to a famous episode of the legendary British comedy series Fawlty Towers, in which the irritable British hotel owner Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, offends his German hotel guests by constantly mentioning the war. Every child in Britain is familiar with this line. Cleese, a master of the German military goose-step, was a patron of the competition. He said ‘I’m delighted to help with trying to break down the ridiculous anti-German prejudices of the tabloids, and clowns like Basil Fawlty, who are pathetically stuck in a world view that’s more than half a century out of date.’”

The foreign press was informed, engaged, and surveyed well in advance of the sporting event. When the World Cup finally took place, they came, they saw, and were conquered. As hoped, international coverage of the sporting event was spiced with positive observations about the Germans themselves. “Our stereotype of the Germans,” wrote Jim White in the London Telegraph, “was that of a person sticking rigidly to rules, or a humourless bureaucrat.” The same newspaper went on to report, “What tens of thousands of visitors pouring in from across the globe discovered is how obsolete that image is. Instead they were confronted by a nation insisting that nothing got in the way of a good time.” The painstakingly laid social groundwork for the campaign paid off brilliantly when it became clear that the German team would not win the competition. Both official and non-official hosts kept their eyes on the real prize at stake and made a collective effort not to give the impression of being bad losers. Post-event surveys showed that the collective effort had been worth it: “91 percent of foreign visitors felt welcome in Germany and 93 percent considered the World Cup to be an outstanding event.”

Much of the marketing costs originally identified with the World Cup promotion have been amortized through the reuse of logos, translated content, and other material in subsequent activities carried out as part of the broader national image campaign. The distinctive logo bearing images of dahlias in the colors of the German flag first used in the World Cup campaign has subsequently been used in spin-off campaigns such as “Germany Years Abroad” designed to communicate a positive image of Germany to Chinese and Indian audiences. The overall campaign strategy also included the production and promotion of The Best of Germany – 250 Reasons to Love Our Country Today, a gorgeous book edited by publisher Florian Langenscheidt. Obviously designed not only to warm up the foreign press corp before the sporting event but also to merit a long-term place on a journalist’s bookshelf, the book was good enough to meet both challenges.

Is any publicity good publicity? Absolutely not. That’s why I was so impressed by Florian Langenscheidt’s book. His compendium of all things German establishes Germany as much more than the land of dachshunds and beer (although it gives these their due). Did you know that MP3 technology was the brainchild of German researcher Karlheinz Brandenburg? Did you realize that the designer menswear label Hugo Boss was German? Langenscheidt’s book plays with well-established national stereotypes but also builds a broader positive image of Germany as a multi-faceted modern state.

The PR genius of The Best of Germany – 250 Reasons to Love Our Country Today lies in the broad scope and inclusiveness of the material it presents. It successfully informs a worldwide audience that although the stereotype of German cuisine may be bratwurst, the doner kebab is now the country’s most popular fast food, and although Allianz and Audi are quintessential German brand names, the country’s democratic constitution and social safety net are also national “trademark” assets. The book also notes that one of the country’s rising film stars is Daniel César Martin Brühl Gonzales Domingo, born in Barcelona in 1978, an excellent choice for illustrating the openness of German society today. In short, it’s a book that maintains its place on one’s bookshelf over time because it offers well-written, well-translated and interesting information in an eye-catching and well-designed format. Four years after it’s publication, I still enjoy browsing through its 515 colorful and informative pages.

So how does Germany fare in the post-World Cup cow joke category? Not too bad compared to its neighbors France and Italy. In fact, it conveys that carefully crafted image of a country known for its sense of humor and its love of the good life that the country’s PR strategists hoped to transmit when they first contemplated a major national image campaign as early as 2001.

GERMAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately, they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

FRENCH CORPORATION: You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows. You go to lunch. Life is good.

ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows but you don’t know where they are. While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman. You break for lunch. Life is good.

The cow joke can, in fact, reflect both a country’s image abroad and how perceptions change slightly over time. For example, the American stereotype in the version I received in 2005 was:

AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one. You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when one cow drops dead. You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have downsized and are reducing expenses. Your stock goes up.

By 2011, the idea of floating a cow on the stock market and putting a positive spin on disastrous events no longer appears to be as amusing as it once was and although many companies are downsizing, few stocks are going up:

AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

Before wrapping up this post, I made one more attempt to find a Spanish two-cow joke. Googling “Spaniard two cows,” I found the following three versions, two of which were obviously concocted by Spaniards and therefore don’t qualify as indicators of the image of Spain abroad. The third should be considered fairly inevitable given the way Spain has been immortalized by everyone from Ernest Hemingway to the Spanish Tourist Board. Collectively, they point to the need to polish the national image both domestically and abroad. I have taken the liberty of patching up the syntax of the first and have left the other two as I found them in the Internet:

SPANISH CORPORATION: You have two cows. It took you two weeks to realize that you had two cows. They have since wandered off and demanded that their territory be autonomous. You decide to take a three-hour lunch and a siesta.

SPANISH CORPORATION: You have 20,000 cows. 200 of them hard work while the remaining complain and bitch. Then another 19.800 cows are required(?) from cheaper farms. Finally all 20.000 cows get CCC rating, but we dont care cuz we are EuroCup Champions and Antonio Banderas is spanish.

SPANIARD: You have two cows. You trade them for a bull. In a macho moment the next day you are gored to death.

An analysis of an ongoing cow joke may be as unscientific a method for measuring a country’s image abroad as Mark Tansey’s painting The Innocent Eye Test is for measuring the value of a work of art or a critic’s opinion, but humor always contains a grain of truth. Spain isn’t the only country that should work harder to consolidate and improve its national image both at home and abroad, but however a country is portrayed (or not) in the never-ending saga of the two cows, all could benefit from a closer look at Germany’s timely national PR strategy and Florian Langenscheidt’s lasting portrait of Germany society today. Of course, one should never forget that translating a national image to a global public entails providing that international public with excellent translations of the message to be conveyed.

Connecting with New Markets and Audiences: Translating and adapting advertising and PSA texts for international audiences

Translating and adapting advertising material for international and foreign language markets is a challenge. A catchy slogan that has worked well in a local or domestic market may or may not be as successful in another environment or may have no linguistic equivalent in a target language. What comes off as funny in one culture may leave people in another part of the world cold or might even offend. Just how far should a company localize an advertising slogan or campaign in an increasingly globalized marketplace? The steady shift of advertising towards wireless media and borderless markets calls for the development of a global approach to advertising and public relations that permits local fine tuning without diluting a core brand identity.

As advertising executives become more sensitive to cultural issues, they tend to employ cross-cultural adaptation strategies for international campaigns rather than standardized, “one-size-fits-all” approaches developed at company headquarters. According to Wikipedia, McDonald’s turned to Heye & Partner, a German member of the DDB Worldwide Communications Group, when they undertook their first worldwide advertising campaign. The new company slogan was launched in Germany as “ich liebe es” on September 2, 2003―weeks before English language “I’m lovin’ it” campaigns were rolled out in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The list of back translations of McDonald’s famous slogan in a variety of other languages provided in the Wiki article underscores the flexibility required to produce a version of a slogan that appeals to a specific new audience. For example, different French translations were used in Canada and France, and more understated messages (“I like it” and “I just like it”) were deemed to be more appropriate in Latvian and Chinese.

Another technique for translating existing advertising text to another language is “transcreation”― giving the translator the liberty to use the ideas and concepts of the original text to create new content that sounds more natural and that is more culturally appropriate for the target language and market.   I sometimes use the transcreation approach (with the client’s consent) to give advertising slogans, website content, and corporate blog posts an authenticity and spark that would be impossible to achieve through literal translation.

The translations used in Amnesty International’s “Not here, but now” human rights campaign pictured below are good examples of how a message can be effectively transmitted in various languages when translators are given a little leeway in translating key concepts established for a multilingual campaign into a new language.

Amnesty International campaign in English

Amnesty International campaign in French

Amnesty International Campaign in German

Amnesty International Campaign in Italian

….Crafting an effective international advertising campaign does not necessarily require a big budget. The key is combining a simple, universal message with strong visual components in a format that does not require costly technical operations for changing languages. Opting for voiceover narration can reduce the cost of producing versions in additional languages, as it eliminates the need for subtitling and dubbing. The International Osteoporosis Foundation has launched two highly successful international public service announcement campaigns that are models of what can be accomplished by adopting an international outlook right from the start and choosing formats that allow for adapting key messages for a range of linguistically diverse target communities. The foundation’s PSA video The Train has been prepared for broadcast in at least six languages: English, French, Greek, Romanian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish; all of which can be viewed on its website. By choosing a universally understood metaphor (get out of the way of a moving train) and using simple voiceover techniques, IOF produced a powerful video that could be easily and economically recycled for new audiences throughout the world. The foundation’s second campaign, “Mannequin”, was focused on educating both the medical community and women over fifty in Asian countries about the importance of osteopathic screening and healthcare. The video was premiered in Hong Kong at a press conference marking World Osteoporosis Day and later broadcast in various languages throughout Asia.  The campaign also included outdoor advertising, print, and digital components, including a downloadable PDF “Medical Tool kit”.

Another winning combination of a clear message, engaging graphics, and a script that is easily translatable into any number of languages is the “The World is Your Home” TV spot, a joint project of the International Association of Public Transport and UNEP, which was developed and produced in English, French, German, and Spanish by McCann Erickson. The spot is now available in at least twenty languages and has won both the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) Care award and a Green Award.

International sector advertising can contribute to a company’s internal and external communication strategies. An interesting example is a campaign undertaken by MG Lomb for an industrial company looking to rebuild its brand image and reassure customers after becoming a part of a multinational conglomerate through a buyout. Working hand in hand with the new parent company, MG Lomb and its client crafted a multilingual campaign (involving German, Arabic and Chinese translations) that went far beyond the damage control normally implemented to counteract negative client reaction after a buyout and successfully launched the firm’s new image as a vital branch of the multinational’s “family tree.”  Client response was so favorable that the CEO of the parent company included campaign ad copy in his own PowerPoint report delivered at an in-house sales meeting.

It’s difficult to establish any  limits for  changing the original text, title, or slogan in marketing translation. The titles of books and films are often considered to be malleable marketing material and they are often altered in translation to appeal to specific markets. While the Spanish title of the first volume of Steig Larssen’s Millennium Trilogy, Los Hombres que no amaban a las mujeres, closely follows the original Swedish title, the English language version of the same book was published as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The classic Hollywood movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be forever known in Spain as “Breakfast with Diamonds”―a translation that can at least be justified by the fact that “Tiffany’s” held no connotations at all for the general movie-going public in Spain when the film was released.

The main objective in translating any advertising or public relations material is communicating a positive message and making it stick in the mind of an entirely new public. Although it’s often contested in court, imitation can be not only the sincerest form of flattery but also the most irrefutable proof of an effective advertising campaign. Many years ago, a vegetable vender in an East African marketplace approached me with his own version of one of the world’s most unforgettable advertising slogans. “Madam,” he bellowed at me with a wide grin. “Things go better with a big, big potato!” He delivered the line with such aplomb that I bought the potatoes on the spot without negotiating the price. It still stands out in my memory as one of the cleverest adaptions of an advertising slogan I’ve ever heard.