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How to write marketing copy – a short confessional of a Studio Gambit marketing translator

Marketing and marketing copy

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” The industry scholars, Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller, have a simpler definition. According to them, marketing is the process of identifying and meeting profitable needs, thus turning these needs into business opportunities.

It follows that marketing copy has one goal in mind, and it is to persuade a specific group of people to buy a product or use a service. This is typically achieved by presenting said product or service in the best possible light, thus enticing the audience to take the desired action.

Typically translated types

… of marketing copy, of course. In our line of work, we tend to translate copy for digital marketing, i.e. the marketing that happens online. Text types range from product leaflets, brochures, and technical descriptions to marketing slogans and e-commerce website content.

I like to divide these texts into groups based on their approach to their audience.

  • Easy-to-read, friendly copy for light reading

These texts tend to have a narrative structure, describing a topic or encouraging the recipient to check out a product such as a smartphone game.

One challenge here might be the need to carry out additional research to see how the product looks like, if it’s intended for children or adults and whether it had already been localised into the target language. 

  • Technical, jargon-dense copy written for no one at all

Full of buzz words and marketing jargon, these texts liberally use cutting-edge, innovative, experience, pushing boundaries, next generation and other expressions that are so common they have completely lost their meaning.

The challenge here is to try and avoid translating the jargon to jargon, and arrive at smooth, flowing language that is not too cliched but still familiar.

  • Slogans and concise creative expressions

Think Loreal’s “Because you’re worth it”, or Red Bulls “Gives you wings!”. Based on wordplay and often steeped in the source cultural meanings, these texts are as challenging, as they are fun to translate.

I like to use the following five rules when translating such copy:

  1. Product/service is key
  2. Less is more
  3. Stick to the truth
  4. Be brave
  5. The result has to sound natural

Personal qualities

In my work, I found that most of good marketing translators possess more than of the following qualities:

  1. Independence
  2. Confidence in their abilities – they have to back it up, though!
  3. Courage (to coin new language and move away from the original)
  4. Even more courage (this time to choose simple language over the inflated copy)

Marketing translation challenges

Typical issues include:

  1. Lack of context: this issue is much more severe than with other text types because it’s easy to make an impactful blunder. Cultural backgrounds are no joke, and any misstep can end badly both for you and the client, like in that famous Chinese translation of a Pepsi slogan “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.
  2. Length limits: some languages use more space than others and this can be a nightmare when working with a character limit. Do not shorten words, though, seriously.
  3. Overused language: remember the innovative experience pushing the boundaries of next generation? It can be easy to write something that means nothing to its audience.
  4. Constant war with your editor: there are as many translations as there are translators and the editors always think they’re right – let’s leave it at that.
  5. Nature vs nurture, i.e., can you learn to translate marketing really well or do you have to have a talent for it? This issue is disputed daily and at all levels – so be prepared to discuss it endlessly.

Tricks of the trade

  1. DO use active voice and recognise passive structures as the mortal enemy of persuasion.
  2. DON’T overload your text with jargon and complex structures. No one wants to read that.
  3. DO write as to a friend, but not one who knows you well.
  4. Abbreviations are evil. V. evil.
  5. Brevity is the soul of wit.

And that’s it.

Studio Gambit Team

We are the translators, editors, proofreaders, project managers, IT specialists, localization engineers and DTP operators forming part of the team here at Studio Gambit.

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