5 Big Bilingual Copy Mistakes Direct Marketers Make (and How to Avoid Them)
It's hard enough to write good copy in one language. Writing copy that works in two languages is at least twice as hard.
Here are some mistakes you should avoid if you're creating bilingual copy for the first time.
Mistake No. 1: Doing a simple translation. Let's say you have a direct mail package that works for an English-speaking audience. Now you want to break into the Hispanic market with a bilingual package. So you figure all you have to do is hire a translator. Right? Not quite. As an experiment, take a few paragraphs of English copy, paste it into an online translator, translate it into another language then back again. Not too good is it? That's because language is more than words. Meaning, ideas and cultural references often don't translate well.
Mistake No. 2: Always writing in English first. This will be your first instinct if English is your native language. But sometimes it's a good idea to start with the other language. For example, some languages are more verbose. So if you start with 2,000 words in English, the version in the other language might be 2,500 or more words. It can be hard to cram that much extra copy into the same layout. By going in the other direction, you may end up with a more workable result.
Mistake No. 3: Making the same sales pitch in both languages. Never assume that everyone's hot buttons are the same. Price might be the main motivator for people of one culture, while social status might be the main motivator in another. Once again, bilingual marketing isn't about translation as much as it is about appealing to the sensibilities of two different audiences.
Mistake No. 4: Using culturally-based phrases and ideas. The advertising world is full of horror stories about how copy can go haywire in translation. Pepsi's upbeat slogan, "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated poorly in China, where it meant "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." The Parker Pen company goofed when it tried to sell a ballpoint pen in Mexico with ads bragging, "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." Unfortunately, the translation proclaimed, "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."
Mistake No. 5: Going it alone. There's just no way to market in another language if you're not fluent in the language and don't understand the culture. If you're serious about bilingual marketing, you have to bring in people who understand both languages and cultures and have experience selling to each. There are no shortcuts.
Dean Rieck is president of the direct marketing creative firm Direct Creative of Westerville, Ohio. He can be reached at (614) 882-8823 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.