Language in Cross Cultural Advertising

The shopping season has begun but companies are not expecting customers to splurge like before. Bumper sales during festive seasons are passé, largely because companies are looking for reasons to make customers shop throughout the year. Across sectors, Oct-Dec sales are down by 7% to 10% as marketers create events out of Valentine Day, Akshay Tritiya, Women’s Day, Friendship Day, Mother’s Day which are celebrated across continents and across cultures. Thanks to globalization, people are going places accepting different customs, cultures, and traditions.

Every company must use these points while structuring their communication strategy. Advertisement as a communication channel will be complex in nature while addressing the cross cultural BHEL (mix) of today’s globally local world. Language in cross cultural advertising as a strategy should be simple enough to be used globally, thoughtful enough to give the same message worldwide and flexible enough to include a local twik if required. These local changes need to be done as to provide a value proposition to the foreign target audience. As what is of value to one person in a certain way may not be of the same value to other person in the same manner. Here language is not limited only to spoken words but it’s a 360 degree view of the message and of the company as a whole. Advertisement language should understand the Taboos, and hence should keep it simple to simply deliver the message. Language will include spoken & written words, signs, symbols, shapes, colors, musical tunes, numbers, locations, products, brands, actors and the list would go on.

There are many cases where companies have used this to their advantage and you will also find many examples where companies had to face disastrous results. There are many cases in which companies had to withdraw its product offerings from the market and at some instances even had to pay penalties. But ultimately the negative effect that the Brand would have to face is much bigger than anything else which would then take years of efforts to bring it back to its original level and have a good image in the society.

Advertising copy, in any language, is designed to catch the public attention with appealing messages, together with attractive imagery. But advertisers sometimes lose sight of the fact that sales of a product will suffer if advertising copy intended for use in foreign country is improperly translated. At times a direct translation of advertising message often involves words with multiple meanings and definitions that lack direct equivalences in a foreign language or the case might be that same phrases or words would have different meanings across borders. The ad world is littered with examples of linguistic cross cultural blunders. Of the more comical was Ford’s introduction of the ‘Pinto’ in Brazil. After seeing sales fail, they soon realized that this was due to the fact that Brazilians did not want to be seen driving a car meaning ‘tiny male genitals’. Even phrases could have different meanings – “Camping out” would mean that you had gone on a camp. But in Australia this would mean that you were making love.

While advertising abroad companies need to understand the cultural values underpinning the society and also what is acceptable and not acceptable in the society as this is what we all are and would be in future. With changing traits, customs and acceptability levels companies need to be alert to deliver their message correctly in this cross cultural global environment.





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Chaitanya Damle

I am the free bird in a cage with a dream to expand the cage to fit the entire world in or to shrink the entire world to fit in it.

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