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Why Knowing the Language and Culture of Your Reader is Integral to Copywriting

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One of the A series QI episodes picks the theme of - Advertising. QI, for those of you who have not yet watched it, is a BBC quiz show hosted by Stephen Fry. The invited panelists are mostly comedians, and points in the show are awarded to those that offer the least obvious answer. Not the correct one, as this is normally the case. But even this rule is hardly a rule, as nothing ever goes as planned in this show. This is why you should watch it. Once.

Another interesting question in the same QI episode involved the Toyota car company. The MR2 model Toyota was supposedly an embarrassing name in France. This is because "MR2" reads similar to Merde! in French, which basically means it's - shit!

Again, did you think about what the naming of your product may imply in different countries? Have you read your slogan in Chinese, have you checked what it may mean in Portuguese? If not, well, it may be that you are an embarrassment somewhere.

And it's not translating that will make up for copywriting in foreign language. The simple translation of your slogan sometimes won't work. This wasn't brought up in QI, but there is a case of a Pepsi commercial from the 1960s that read "Come Alive! You're in the Pepsi generation!" in US, that was interpreted in China as "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Dead!".

The zombie call would probably not be as disastrous if the ad wasn't targeted at young people. It doesn't quite add to that daring, adventurous image of Pepsi. Or does it? I dare you to savor that bubbly fluid and summon back your grandma! Hm.

You Can't Please Them All, or Can You?

It may be a wild-goose chase to go after every language and culture and check for spelling and pronunciation and possible dichotomies, but, now and then, you may target your campaign at a specific geographical region. Like Pepsi.

Also, it is possible that you have collected all the visitors/customers statistics and that you have the knowledge of their origin. Flash news. You are not only supposed to collect it. Not saying that you need to learn Mandarine, either.

 

Gerber's United Babies Commercial

Apart from recognizing that there are indeed different cultures and languages in the world (like Gerber does today), you could move a step beyond recycling cliches. You could find out what TV shows they play in Portugal, how does it feel to shop at Walmart in US, what would you normally browse on the Internet in China, what are the traditional colors of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. You know when Mardi Gras is due, right?

Not all will be motivated by your urge to save money. Or the environment. One man's kitty poster is another man's food on the plate. Some like their neighbors, some do not. Some may not even care about the new iPhone.

Think of ads as of writing postcards. You must know the recipient. His logic. His trigger. His language. Before choosing an image and writing a text. You wouldn't send a postcard of a beach dolphin choosing from 7 different types of beer to your mom, yes? If you knew your customers as well, you wouldn't sell them babies in a jar or ancestors in their drink, either.

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