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Does "Don't look at the tooth of a horse that was given" mean anything to you? What about "That's wheat from a different bag"? These are direct translations of Spanish expressions that clearly do not mean anything in English but are familiar proverbs if interpreted correctly. Language-specific expressions make translating difficult and bring challenges to marketing campaigns geared toward different language groups.

Verbal communication is by far one of the most complex of human phenomena. There are so many factors to consider when sending a verbal message, including the intent of the message being sent, who will be receiving it, and in what ways it might be interpreted.

This is what marketers and advertisers face on a regular basis. Their goal is always to make sure the messages they send are received and understood in the way they are intended. This is no easy task, and when multilingual markets are involved, the task becomes even more challenging.

Adapting NK Seeds' English advertisement into a French version was no easy task, considering there are few words in French that contain the letter k. "When we want to do a good adaptation of an ad based on a familiar expression or letters, we have to find something that is equivalent in French, even if it's not the same wording," says Josée de Grandmont, vice president of Modus Vivendi.
So how do those involved in agrimarketing successfully communicate to multiple language groups? Modus Vivendi, a division of the Canadian marketing company Adculture Group Inc., is heavily involved in marketing to both French- and English-speaking audiences. JosÈe de Grandmont, vice president at Modus Vivendi, says they use several translators to help them communicate to their target groups. "We have different translators that have specific technical backgrounds. Our business is in the agri-food sector, and sometimes it's highly technical, so we need translators who know what they're talking about," says de Grandmont.

One of its clients is Syngenta, an agribusiness that operates in 90 countries. De Grandmont says work with international clients like this can involve information that is difficult to translate. "When you're talking about things like molecules and the chemical activity of a product, it's important that the account team, and the translator they work with, have the appropriate understanding of the market and an agronomic background."

Jacques Long, advertising consultant for UPA Publications (UPA is the French acronym for the Quebec Farmers Association), is involved in the French-Canadian sector of agribusiness. He notes that agriculture is an area that is very complex, involving an extensive list of sectors within the industry. He explains that the lingo in each area is very different, which is why it is important to have translators with knowledge in a wide range of agricultural areas. "We have specialists in translation for farm equipment, we have specialists in pesticides, and we have experts in animal health," Long says.

He adds that testing is always important. "Sometimes, we get translations from corporate clients that don't make any sense, and they might claim that they've translated it correctly. So we send it to an appropriate specialist, like a vet with the province of Quebec if the material is about animal health. And sometimes the specialist will say 'No, this doesn't make sense,' and appropriate changes are made."


Some agriculture companies do their own translation work successfully. One such company is Ketchum Manufacturing Inc., a Canadian business involved in identification products, predominantly for agricultural sectors. "We feel that doing our own translating is important because we understand our markets, and we understand our products and how they fit into the market," says Doug Lousley, vice president of Ketchum. Due to the broad range of products in niche markets, he feels using an ad agency for marketing and translating is not feasible.

Lousley doesn't pretend to have all the knowledge needed to translate the many different types of agricultural material that comes his way. Rather, he says that Ketchum looks to international distributors for help. "They know a lot about the product or service we are marketing and are therefore key in helping us get certain messages across." Lousley is aware of the need to be sensitive to the idioms and innuendoes that change from language to language with regional variations.


The California Milk Processor Board takes imagery and cultural sensitivity seriously in its Spanish language campaigns.
This is the great challenge for advertisers. The vast majority of advertisements use some sort of catchy phrase or expression to communicate messages, and these linguistic tools are language-specific. That is, expressions like "It's raining cats and dogs" and "Knock your socks off" only make sense in the English language, and directly translating a phrase that is language-specific does not work. Rather, for an ad to be translated from one language to another, it must, in essence, be reinterpreted.

"Adapting advertising into another language is a completely different challenge," de Grandmont says. "Ads involve punchy, clever statements, and simply translating such a thing from English to French or French to English doesn't work. We must refer back to the creative brief for the ad or be briefed directly by the client and make sure we completely understand the ideas and objectives behind it. Then we adapt the ad so that it will work just as well in the new language as it did in the original language."

English ads that need a French version are often sent to Modus Vivendi already translated into French because de Grandmont says it is easier to work from the French translation. However, the translator won't have had a lot of background knowledge, such as who the advertiser's clients are, what messages they are trying to send, and what their marketing objectives are. So de Grandmont and her colleagues will consider this information first and then recreate the ad.

De Grandmont and her team worked to adapt a campaign for NK Seeds that hinged on a play of words that include the letters n and k. While the proposed English campaign cleverly delivered the corporate brand through the product message with a graphic treatment of the letters n and k, the challenge for Modus Vivendi was finding French words that included the letter k. There are only a handful of such words in the French language. De Grandmont and her team worked to find other two-letter combinations that were agronomically significant in French, while delivering the desired product and brand messages for the client.

Visually, the ad campaign was dependent on these letters. "So, we decided to play with other letters, and we were able to make a very good French adaptation of the campaign this way," de Grandmont says.


"What's more important than the language is a good understanding of what makes the market unique," adds de Grandmont. "What cultural factors influence how you communicate to this segment of your audience? Successful marketers really get this."

Ads are very visual, and cultural sensitivity to imagery is a must when it comes to multilingual marketing. The California Milk Processor Board has been running a Spanish language campaign since 1994 and takes cultural sensitivity very seriously.

Jeff Manning, executive director of The California Milk Processor Board, says they are sensitive to religious references. "Religion is a huge part of Latin life, and while we try to avoid religion in all of our campaigns, we are particularly sensitive to this in our Spanish language campaign. We don't use any religious references at all."

And when working with commercials, there are socioeconomic sensitivities that come into play. Manning says they do a lot of Spanish language commercials, and need to be sensitive to how they depict the homes of the people in the ad. "We try really hard to be realistic."

Of course, language remains an issue too. "We must consider language carefully, as words are, in fact, an important type of imagery," Manning says. "And we do this in the broader context of culture." The importance of this was demonstrated in 1994, when The California Milk Processor Board thought they might use the "Got Milk?" ads in a Spanish language campaign. After doing some research, they decided not to use "Got Milk?" because in Spanish, the phrase can be interpreted as "Are you lactating?" Instead, the board uses the Spanish translation of "Family, Love and Milk" in their Spanish language campaign.

Wonder Bread is another company doing well in a Spanish language market. Last year, they launched "Pan de Papa" (potato bread) to Mexican consumers. The promotional campaign includes billboards and radio ads and has been highly successful. In general, the potato business has made inroads by appealing, in part, to the historic ties of potatoes to Central American culture.

Being aware of who is receiving the message and how they will interpret it is fundamental to a successful marketing campaign. When different languages are involved, this becomes all the more important. Lousley believes we owe it to each other to be sensitive to language issues. "We need to be alert and sensitive. I don't know if this is a challenge - I think it's just the way people should treat each other." AM

Susan Falk is staff writer at Issues Ink, a communications company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which publishes several ag magazines, including Germination and Manure Matters.

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