Every now and then we want to post “reality checks” as a way to clarify or qualify claims we’re making in recent posts, especially where we spot ambiguities in our own writing and may have second thoughts after receiving thoughtful and thought-provoking feedback from readers.
Global or local?
In our post the other day, “English-to-Japanese translation for persuasion: Words to the wise (and words of warning!),” we detoured around the fact that most very large, multilingual advertising campaigns are properly handled not by translation firms but by global advertising agencies and/or adaptation firms. At the more local level, i.e. assuming you have a campaign in one language and want to expand just to one other language for starters, we think it’s possible to create great copy with the assistance of a translation firm in the target country. Since we’re a translation firm in Japan that blogs in English, the latter scenario naturally becomes the focus of our blogging. Truthfully, though? Most professionals in the translation industry are wary of providing valuable marketing assistance at translation agency rates. It’s controversial and worth discussing. We welcome comments from others in the industry.
Translate or rewrite?
Regarding the same article, we received warm applause from marketing and copywriting people but some misgivings from professional translators. The linguists thought that our interchangeable usage of the words “translation” and “copywriting” was particularly derelict. Well, to be honest, many more web searches are made for “translation” than for “copywriting,” so we used phrases that included both words heavily in that post. There are also gray areas where whoever is managing an international advertising campaign might not know whether to have the source language ad copy translated for the target language or completely rewritten.
This leaves the question: How do you choose?
The answer: Case by case. Ask a translator or a translation firm in the target country for their opinions. And, if it’s a high-budget, crucial campaign, pay an agency in the target country to test the translation out on native customers.
Faithful or bold?
On our post yesterday introducing adaptation/transcreation agencies, C. Turney comments, “I really enjoyed your analogy, ‘Adaptation/transcreation is to translation what copywriting is to writing.'” Thanks! This distinction between international copywriting and translation is larger than most people outside our industry realize. Translation is a profoundly conservative art. Translators faithfully convey meaning. Copywriting, by contrast, is a radically creative skill. If you have an ironic ad slogan that works well in the UK, it may not be well received in Japanese translation, no matter how beautifully and faithfully translated. A Japanese copywriting team can write an entirely new slogan that conveys the brand’s attitude and the campaign’s persuasive effect. But notice that the meaning of the original slogan is completely beside the point.
Note that translators work for cents per word for long texts and hourly for important lines of text. But don’t ask them to work at these rates for ad copy worth thousands. In upcoming posts we’ll explain why crucial, creative and bold ad copy requires a team. It also requires an adequate budget.
Big budget or moderate budget?
Speaking of budget. If you’ve got a huge one – huge budget, we mean – and a multilingual campaign to run, there really is no reason to be reading this series about working with translation agencies. Instead, stop reading here and contact one of the adaptation/transcreation firms we listed yesterday. But if you want to target one foreign language and you have a moderate budget, stay tuned to our blog this month. We have some ideas just for you.
About the author
- Lawrence LaFerla is the division head for JAPANtranslation and blogger in chief at “Marketing on the Japanese web.” He works in sunny Osaka.