Language of Advertising

As we have seen in a previous post (click here), within the language of advertising the translator is often bound by more factors than when translating other texts. We are constantly attacked by and completely surrounded by the language of advertising so much so that it filters into our respective cultures and seeps into the language of the average speaker.

The language of advertising has become an important element in the creation of new words, phrases and cultural references. It is noteworthy to mention Umberto Eco here and his last work of fiction The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana in which he shows the influence of both high and low culture on our social (and linguistic) make-up.

Advertising is intrinsically linked to a throw-away linguistic culture where words and phrases enter the language at great velocity, are used with great propensity and then disappear never to be heard again. Most people can remember the advertising slogans of their childhood, although these phrases often do not have the same function today as they once had.

Two common phrases in Polish advertising have been noted. The first is lubię chłodek. The second is mały głodek. Both are amusing phrases aimed at children or aiming to mimic the language of children through the use of diminutives: chłód (‘chill’, ‘the cold’) –> chłodek and głód (‘hunger’) –> głodek. The translation of these two phrases might prove difficult.

Lubię chłodek can be found on drinks and yoghurts that should be ‘kept refrigerated’. However, keep refrigerated is too formal a phrase for this context, thus constructions such as I like the cold or I prefer it chilly might be more appropriate, although in the second suggestion the key word has become an adjective.

Mały głodek is a slogan used as part of an advertising campaign for a well-known yoghurt-like product. The product is the enemy of ‘hunger’ which is personified as a small yellow creature. Here we have the additional problem of having to deal with a character/persona. A possible equivalent might be hunger pang which retains the noun quality of the original and adds an element of devilishness with the word pang.

Perfect equivalents they are not but they help shed light on the cultural, grammatical and semantic processes taking places in both languages.

57 Responses to “Language of Advertising”

  1. Monika K. Says:

    Language of advertising is a very interesting subject and a challenge for translators. The truth is that slogan from advertisements very often becomes part of our everyday language or common jokes. People from other cultures may have difficulties with understanding of some elements of this specific language, so it is important to translate it properly. This language should be adapted to the proper audience, so we should remember to use appropriate style while translating advertisements for teenagers, businessmen, or elder people. It is crucial to render similar associations in target recipients’ minds.

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    The question is often whether or not we should translate advertising at all…

  3. Katy Says:

    In my opinion advertisements should not be translated. What we can do is treat a source advert as a example of what we can create in the target language. Translating advertisements is often simply impossible and the reason for this is that the translation of a source slogan may function completely different in the target culture.

  4. Luiza Jasińska Says:

    In my opinion, translation of advertisements requires a lot of imagination and knowledge of this field. Besides, a translator should not keep close to the original text, but rather think about the target culture and customers and accordingly adjust the ad. For instance, I do not like adverts from other countries, like Marlboro where we can see a cowboy. This type of ad is an excellent idea in the US where everyone knows what a cowboy personifies, but in Poland most people, except for those who studies American culture, does not get it.

  5. transubstantiation Says:

    Katy: How can you not translate advertisements?

  6. Kasia Styczyńska Says:

    You have to translate the advertisements..I don’t understand how it would work without translating them.
    Anyway, it is interesting to watch two identical ads in two languages. Sometimes they are similar, but sometimes they have to be changed to be understood by the target country/culture. By that change, I mean the context, or even words. I can see that big companies translate their main slogans in almost the same way in every language. For example: Doda ci skrzydeł -> Gives you wings ; ożywia ciało i umysł -> vitalizes the body and mind”

  7. Milena M Says:

    The problem of translating advertisements is that they must appeal to one specific culture. The other problem is that we have very few (or even no) advertisements that are universally amusing or appealing. In my opinion, we should treat them in the same manner as other culturally bound texts aimed to meet the target culture. For me there is no difference between advertisements and broad age group films, e.g. Shrek. A good example taken from Shrek is that Wierzbięta translated parfrait as kramówki, which was brilliant. In conclusion, in order to reach the advertising aim, we should adapt (if possible) advertisements to the target culture.

  8. Alicja Piotrowska Says:

    There are some NOT translated slogans as: “Nokia Connecting people”, “Nike Just Do it”, “Toshiba In Touch with Tomorrow” (at least they are not translated into Polish and function as original text, I am not sure about other languages), however, that works only with English slogans. Advertising slogans from other languages when facing a global advertising strategy MUST be translated, or new slogans based on the original idea must be created.
    Actually, as advertising is kind of my field, I am aware that global advertising strategies are not easy for all companies (by which I mean the companies working on world market). Not only do they have to create an image (TV ad) that suits all the cultures that the product would be present in, but they also have to create a catchy slogan that can be easily translated into other languages without the loss of meaning. I know a lot of examples of companies that failed to do this (the situation obviously led to changing the strategy – which is extremely expensive! – that is why research is so important in this field). Just to mention one: An American skiing company Salomon wanted to advertise on a global market its new skis dedicated to young individuals wanting to ski faster. They had two options for a slogan (and image going with it). One was “Join the revolution” which translated easily into all languages. However, it was rejected as skiers to which the product was directed were individuals and were not willing to join any group, especially of revolutionaries. There came another slogan “Make the mountain bleed” which suggested that the skis are as sharp as razor so go smoothly for sure. Nevertheless, the alliteration of two M was very difficult to translate and the image of bleeding mountain occurred impossible to convey in translation into Japanese, German, French and Swedish. What the company did in the end was looking for other ideas which took a long time. “Make the mountain bleed” remained a slogan only in the US, the global strategy was impossible and the product had separate advertisements in various countries.
    Now, you see how difficult it is to translate slogans in global marketing strategies. The leader is for sure Coca-cola. But I know that ‘normal’ translators are not hired to translate ads or slogans. These should be people who are not only translators but have also broad knowledge of Brand Management.

  9. Patrycja F. Says:

    I think that the well-known companies realize that their products will be sold all around the world, that is why they make up the ad slogans so they are easy translated into various languages – simple but catchy and easy recognizable short phrases, e.g L’Oreal “i’m worth it”.

    If the ad is embedded in a certain culture than it should be only an inspiration to make a new advertisement which works in a particular country

  10. michael farris Says:

    “There came another slogan “Make the mountain bleed” which suggested that the skis are as sharp as razor so go smoothly for sure.”

    I’m not a skier, but even if I were “make the mountain bleed” is just plain … disgusting and evokes horrible mental images.

    Was this campaign successful?

  11. Alicja Piotrowska Says:

    No, as I wrote, the campaign did not even enter real world as the slogan and image connected with it couldn’t be conveyed in other languages. Moreover, the image evoked bad associations in countries other than USA. The slogan was only used in USA, and as I know the campaign was successful there.

  12. Agata S. Says:

    I agree that language of advertising is certainly a great challenge for translators. It requires not only creativity but also a perfect knowledge of a target language. A translator must be able to render an ad in such a way that it would evoke similar associations in target receivers. Sometimes in order to achieve the similar effect of an ad a translator is forced to adapt it to a target language’s (culture) needs.

  13. Uzar News Says:

    Translating advertisements may be demanding and not as easy as it seems but still I believe it can be very funny experience. Well of course, this field of translations requires some socio-cultural background, connection to the humour and an ability to interconnect visuals and words. It may be very difficult for people without imagionation who are for example brilliant at translating some economic and bussiness, though😛

    It is quite an art…sometimes the visual dominates, sometimes the word dominates. Supplying that chunk of script that gives the necessary information as well as to connect to the audience to buy or at least notice the product🙂

    Marta Daciuk

  14. transubstantiation Says:

    Bleeding mountains – disgusting!

  15. Justyna Michalczyk Says:

    Translating slogans is definitely a challenge for the translator. But not everyone has the ability to do it >>well<< because it requires, among others, outstanding creativity and the easiness of playing with words. I think that people who are to translate slogans not necessarily have to be translators. These should be people who have experience in advertising industry and basically know what it’s all about and what’s most important in such a slogan, etc. I reckon that if there is an important translation project, the team working on it should consist of not only the translator(s) but also of advertising experts. Such a cooperation just has to be doomed to success🙂

  16. margola Says:

    I don’t know why but this phrase lubie chlodek reminds me of maly smrodek… which is also a diffucult phrase to translate
    As far as tranlatings ads goes, this is not a tranlsation but adaptation. You have to imagine the situation, embody a message and address it in a way which will enable you to achieve similar effect.
    Fascinating but soooo difficult

  17. Madzia Says:

    In my opinion advertisements are impossible to translate in some way. I think that every slogan has different cultural background, so as it comes with it not everybody will understand the meaning of the advertisement and their slogans. We should associate the meaning to a concrete target audience to make it understandable.

  18. transubstantiation Says:

    We can assume that ALL translation is impossible. But if so, where is the position of advertising on this impossibility continuum?

  19. Łukasz Says:

    Michael, I’m a great fan of skiing and I think that “Make the mountain bleed” is far from disgusting. As Alicja wrote the slogan was successful in the USA. For me it works perfectly! And sharp skis are crucial if you want to speed down the mountain, but you are not a skier so you can’t know it…

  20. Billy Says:

    Lukasz, I’m with Michael. I think it sounds horrible!

  21. michael farris Says:

    “Make the mountain bleed” just might work for skiers, but for me it makes me imagine not snow but skiing down (human) flesh with razors attached to my feet. Yech.

    There is also a possible sexual interpretation (which I’m sure those responsible took into consideration) but I’m willing to ignore that if everyone else is.

  22. Sylwia K. Says:

    I put translating adverts, together with translating poetry, on the highest level in this ‘game’… The most difficult but incredibly challenging task. The task to be carried out by the best pupils and the ‘game’ to be won by the best ‘players’. Creativity, competence, endurance, ability of analogical and ingenious thinking and, unquestionably, the gift are essential here. Unfortunately, all those features do not guarantee success every time because there are cases where the ‘game’ is unbeatable. Even for those who are the most sharp-witted. They can change the rules then. But it will not be the same any more…

  23. Paweł Ochmański Says:

    Language of advertisements has its own rules and they are extremely difficult to carry into various cultures. Alliterations, word games, symbols and associations etc. In my opinion, on many occassions a translator should look for an equivalent suitable to particular culture the ad is to operate. Sometimes literal translations deprive slogans of their original beauty. Personally, I am against leaving slogans untranslated (practice recently used by many brands) as it creates a barrier barring the customer who is not always capable of understanding the foreign slogan.

  24. Milena Chremeta Says:

    I used to teach people who worked in advertising and must say they are VERY creative🙂

    I really like the idea with “hunger pang”, even though the Polish phrase “mały głodek” is ten times better. Despite the fact that a word “pang” simply does not work for me, I would have to compromise on that since there is probably nothing better than that…
    Any other suggestions? Anybody?

    As I once said, we have to learn to compromise. Translations teach me this everyday.

  25. michael farris Says:

    Lubię chłodek: for (American) English I think “Keep me cold” would work though structurally it’s a bit different (and the associations are different too).

    Mały głodek: Hunger pangs is an established phrase whereas (if I understand it correctly) mały głodek was created for this campaign. But hunger pangs are something you experience and not well represented by a yellow critter. I’d propose personifying and singularizing it as the Hunger Pang (the capitalization is important) which could be represented by the yellow thing.

  26. transubstantiation Says:

    The Hunger Pang = maly glodek – wonderful!
    Or even “The Pang”.

  27. michael farris Says:

    Or even “The Pang”.

    Yeah, I like that!

  28. Kate Says:

    well, advertising language is quite culture specific and if we borrow some adverts we can make adaptations instead of translations or even make up our own slogans so that native people can understand the adverts without understanding foreign culture. What’s more, socioculturalists particularly oppose the idea of translation equivalence, as they see it as an illusion.

  29. Emma O Says:

    I agree with Justyna. You have to be very creative to translate slogans.
    “Ciesz się sportem z Go Sport!” – “Be sporty with Go Sport!”🙂

  30. michael farris Says:

    I have no idea how well ‘be sporty’ would work in the UK, but IMO it wouldn’t work in America where ‘sporty’ (IME) isn’t about sports but appearance, especially clothes.
    The closest in Polish would be (believe it or not) elegancki (with extra connotations of youth, originality and an assertive fun-loving attitude). (The irony is that the English ‘Sporty’ Spice didn’t look sporty at all by American standards).

    Also sport doesn’t work in US English

    Polish sport (as a generalized noun) will always be ‘sports’ in the US. There, sport is a singular count noun that refers to a particular athletic discipline, as in “Martina Navratilova did a lot for the sport.” where ‘the sport’ refers to (womens) tennis and not athletics in general.

    I might go for “Go out for sports at Go Sport” where ‘go out’ has connotations of getting out of the house and joining a sports team. On the down side, it’s too long…

  31. transubstantiation Says:

    How about:
    “Ready, Steady, Go Sport!”

  32. michael farris Says:

    “On your mark, get set Go Sport!”

  33. Marta Zawilska Says:

    I agree with all the people who say one has to be very creative when translating ads. Often the translator must be a copywriter in the target language. And I’m not sure how it works, but probably in many cases big companies simply hire adverising agencies with whole bunches of people who work on the target slogans or even entire campains, if the idea seems difficult to translate. Also, I think that we must perfectly fit with our translation into the target culture, and what is even more, into the target group for the advertised product. It’s indeed quite a challenge, and if our translation fails, it’s a very costly challenge;) But I definitely think ads should be translated, with the effect taken as priority.

  34. Iwona Wisniewska Says:

    I think his is true that advertising provide us with a lot of nice phrases. But if I had to translate Polish slogans into English I would probably ask Mr U for help;) Some of the slogans are really stupid. And I’m talking not only about the Polish ones. How would you translate Sketchers’ slogan
    ‘Sketchers – they’re delicious!’ ??

  35. michael farris Says:

    What about

    Skechers – smaczne chodzenie ????

    I’m thinking if you can sleep ‘smacznie’ why not walk?

    Flame guards – ON!

  36. transubstantiation Says:

    “Smaczne Sketchers”…

  37. pawel_b Says:

    Yes, this is a very interesting field of translation, indeed. Slogans need to be translated in a very creative way – they are like poetry.. they need to catch one’s attention and stay in one’s mind for as long as possible.
    Let’s try the other way round. How would you translate “Ojciec prać!”🙂 – “Wash, pa, wash it!” perhaps..
    Another fine example of a captivating English slogan (not translated into Polish at all) is “Impossible is nothing” – I really love it!!

  38. Agnieszka Krysztofik Says:

    In my opinion, a translator dealing with the language of advertising must be very creative, follow new trends in a language, pay attention to everything what is going on around him, listen to people, watch commercials, look at billboards. The language of advertising changes rapidly as people invent more and more new words which circulate among us and we use them in everyday life. The language of adverising is full of neologisms, diminutives. Those who create commercials and advertisements play on words very often, doing really crazy things with them, for example “wielka wyprz”. Some adverisements are difficult to understand and we sometimes do not really know what is advertised. However, such an advertisement gives food for thought, we think about it, guess, which was probably the aim of creators as they will do everything to draw our attention.
    As it is mentioned in the article, we are attacked by advertisements from all sides: TV, magazines, newspapers, billboards, posters, leaflets. Some people do not really keep up with the changes and trends, for example old people who have difficulties with finding themselves in the world of rapid changes as they are also bombarded with new words and expressions which they very often do not understand.
    When it comes to translation, it must be very difficult to find proper exuivalents in the target language for words which were meant to entertain, to draw our attention, to be amusing and catchy. Therefore, sometimes translators must use functional equivalents, invent new words, play on them to render the meaning. It is not an easy task to do as not every translator is full of excellent ideas and solutions while translating. However, I think that everyone can try. All in all, the language of advertising shapes our lives and culture.

  39. transubstantiation Says:

    Pawel_b: “Ojciec prać!” – “Wash, pa, wash it!”.
    Doesn’t this also mean “tp hit”, “to beat”?

  40. michael farris Says:

    ‘Ojcieć prać’ is a tough one, mainly because it involves a pun and those almost never translate at all. That’s a case that calls for re-casting (rewriting).

  41. transubstantiation Says:

    It certainly is not an easy one…

  42. Viki Says:

    translating ads is not only translating words, but first of all translating cultures.
    ‘If advertising is translated at all, the
    translator should closely co-operate with the copywriter/art director team
    and not only translate but also advise about culture-specific aspects of both
    languages.’
    http://www.mariekedemooij.com/articles/demooij_2004_translator.pdf

  43. transubstantiation Says:

    Wonderful link/article.

  44. Marta Says:

    I agree with Luiza that one should know the field of advertising very well and should be creative in order to translate a text very well. And it is also true that a text should be translated for the target culture, so it should include only elements that are understandable for that culture.

  45. Agnieszka N. Says:

    In my opinion it is very difficult to translate ads. It is because some of them are connected with culture of certain country. Some of the ads are not translated Like Mcdonalds “im loving it” or as someone noted Nike’s ad “Just do it”. Somehow, the ads “came” into polish culture and by younger people they are understandable. It is because the ads are directed to young people so maybe thats is why they dont have to be translated. But the problem with “glodek” is more complicated cuz, the ad is directed to young people but also to their parents ect. In my opinion, if necessary, the ads should be translated. People are aware that it is translation so it just g\has to show the sense of the ad. It is pretty the same with films. Jokes in fex Shrek are not translated but put into polish culture.

  46. Iza Sasin Says:

    Translating advertisements is a real challenge for the translator but on the other hand it can be a nice experience. The translator should be aware that there is a lot behind the words that must be understood in order to transfer advertising from one culture to another. Culture plays a very important role as far as the advertising is concerned. The translation should fulfill the function of the original advertisements and have a similar effect on the target receivers.

  47. Ania A. Says:

    Language is an extremely complicated tool, that’s why there are so many untranslatable phrases, slogans, or even whole sentences. In my opinion one of the best ways to cope with this problem is to retain the quality of the original and make it understandable in the target culture. However, in case of advertisements the task becomes definitely more difficult because translator has to adjust translated text to the images appearing in the advert. To sum up, all the equivalents translators choose should “help shed light on the cultural, grammatical and semantic processes taking places in both languages.”

  48. Weronika Miernik Says:

    I think that translating advertisments is very challenging because usually it is connected with the huge knowledge of not only the language but also culture. I agree with Iza that a translator should remember about the function of the original advertisements so it has a similar effect on the target receivers.

  49. A.Niedzieska Says:

    I agree with Agnieszka N.’s and Iza’s posts. When translating an ad we have to constantly remember about the culture we want to ‘put it in’ as what works in one culture does not necessarily work in another. Of course it depends on how similar the cultures are. But as Agnieszka said, some slogans were ‘adapted’ easily in POlish culture without being translated. So I guess that if we cannot think of anything that ‘catchy’ in Polish (as it is eg. in English) we should leave it as it is because otherwise we can spoil a very good ad.

  50. Marzena Says:

    Language of advertisements has a huge influence on our language. We even use some phrases from advertisements uncounsciouslly, so translations should be as precise as possible. However, it is not easy.

  51. Tomek C-T Says:

    i would argue that they need to be as dynamic, as flexible as possible. still, some slogans are best left alone – not translated.

  52. andra Says:

    I agree that to translate an advertisement one should be very creative and stop thinking with stereotypes. Some ads are impossible to translate because of cultural meaning (and I think Tomek is right – they are best left alone – not translated), but some are quite easy.


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