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Should translators be expected to be advertising copywriters too?
Thread poster: lexical
lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:54
Portuguese to English
May 23, 2008

This topic was partly prompted by a recent thread in the English monolingual Kudoz forum (http://www.proz.com/kudoz/english/retail/2610622-retail_marketing_management.html) and partly by a frustrating experience I had with an end client - the marketing director of a property development company.

The translation I did for them - a brochure advertising a new apartment complex - was criticised as too literal, and "insufficiently snappy and inventive". Questions were asked like: could you dream up a snappier slogan, not just translate the existing one?

Like everyone, I hope I'm aware of register and context, and the need to choose positive, warm language when translating marketing texts, but how much further are clients entitled to expect us to go? I felt my client was asking me to perform the role of an advertising copywriter - which is a very specialised (and highly paid) talent that I don't claim to possess. I also felt his objectives would be better served by starting the brochure from scratch with a target language copywriter.

I feel that some clients don't understand the difference between translation and copywriting. With the former, we are converting a given text into another language, making allowance certainly for register, localisation and cultural differences but not essentially adding or subtracting from the text. With copywriting, you are working from a client brief and knowledge of the product and target audience, without being constrained by an existing template. I don't think I really convinced my client of this, though with the help of his creatives, we more or less satisfied him in the end.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you deal with it? I'm almost thinking of putting a disclaimer at the end of similar projects, explaining the limitations of translation.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:54
English to Spanish
+ ...
Limitations May 23, 2008

Certainly I think you have expressed well the limitations of translation when dealing with advertising material. What you can hope to produce is a faithful translation than then can be worked on by creative people specialized in the client's market. For the client to think you can take it all the way is unrealistic; just make sure that is understood from the beginning.

The same can be true in other types of work as well. All we can do is translate so that someone else has something to work with and refine further, because some material requires that kind of process.


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Patricia Lane  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:54
French to English
+ ...
Communication and cursors May 23, 2008

Hi Lexical,

The situation you described (and variants thereof) is unfortunately all too common, and the responsibility for it arising is shared between the client and the translator.

- The client, because they often do not know how to "purchase" translation services (download the brochure "Translations: Getting it Right" from the ATA or SFT website) and must be helped along (read: educated)
- The translator, for failing to ask all the necessary questions before project start.

You end up in a situation with a project that has few, insufficiently precise, or no specifications when it starts, and a result that is not fully satisfactory (read: does not fulfill expectations or needs) when it is completed.

This is where the norms (EN 15038) come in handy, as one of the issues specifically addressed is detailing project specifications.

To answer your initial question, no, translators are not expected to be advertising copywriters, but it behooves us to investigate what it is the client really needs/wants and whether we can deliver.

Cheers,

Patricia


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The Misha
Local time: 20:54
Russian to English
+ ...
Unfortunately, it's what the client wants May 23, 2008

If they want you to write copy rather than do a verbatim translation - and they unequivocally say so, and pay you accordingly - then you have to deliver - or turn the job down. This is what localization is all about.

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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:54
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Swallow your pride May 24, 2008

You thought you used the right register and your client thinks you didn't. Writing snappy commercial translations is a skill not all translators command. I used to be a copywriter before I became a translator and of course most clients aren't interested in faithful translations: they want to sell their stuff.

Translators are never briefed the same way copywriters are, but they should be if the client wants to publish a translation without employing a copywriter (>100 euro/hour). If the target audience isn't clear from the text you received, you should always ask the client. Will this text be used on a website, is it meant for dealers, end users etc.?

Correct your translation for free if you neglected to ask these basic questions. There are no limitations to translation. But of course translators have limited skills.

Personally, I would never state: Don't hire me if you want to sell your stuff, I'll only render X faithfully in Y.

So, yes, translators can be highly underpaid copywriters. And, yes, you probably can become one too. Writing snappy copy isn't that hard...

Regards,
Gerard


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 04:54
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
But why? May 24, 2008

"So, yes, translators can be highly underpaid copywriters. And, yes, you probably can become one too."

Translating a slogan costs at most one or two dollars.
Creating an effective slogan is worth thousands of dollars if not more.

As long as your client is aware of the first figure, I really doubt you will be able to convince them to edge much closer to the second one.

So, what's so great in being a copywriter underpaid by THAT much?


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
English to German
+ ...
I agree that agencies often aren't aware of the purpose of a translation May 24, 2008

I have edited stage plays that were written like a business letter (brilliant German, but actors have to breathe once in while..) and glowing motivational speeches to shareholders that were translated like a technical text, ouch.

Advertising translations usually are paid accordingly, the "translation" of slogans, jingles or product names is paid by the hour. In such cases the translator is supposed to provide at least three alternatives which will then be tested by a market research company. I absolutely can't complain about the rates that I am being paid (not even close to the rates for regular translation as shown on my profile page).

Advertising translation and copy-writing however should never be mixed up - a copywriter has to write a text from scratch whereas a translator is dealing with a given context.

When writing advertising translations be aware that copy-writing / communication is a skill that one has to acquire at the university. The studies include psychology and sociology for a reason. You must be 100% capable to put yourself into the role of the addressed consumer and must be able to forget about what the author, the agency and the proofreader might think.


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lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:54
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Gerard said "Swallow your pride",... May 24, 2008

...but there's no pride to swallow in this case. I didn't intend this to be an inquest into my particular case, but rather to elicit what colleagues think about the general principle and the boundary between translation and copywriting.

I have no wish to become a copywriter as I know that my talents, if any, don't lie in that sort of free-ranging, blue-skies creativity. The sign over my metaphorical door reads "Translations done from X to Y"; it doesn't offer advertising services. People don't approach translators for open heart surgery or designs for advanced weapons systems, but they think using a translator is a way of producing effective advertising. This suggests to me that they underestimate the special skills and process involved in copywriting or, as Mikhail comments, think it can be done on the cheap.

I think there is also a very widespread misunderstanding among clients about the transferability of ideas and values between cultures. This inevitably results in disappointment when a well thought-out marketing message in the source language is simply translated instead of being restarted from scratch.

I sense there is quite a lot of client - and agency - education to be done in this area as well, perhaps, as translator education.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
English to German
+ ...
I agree to a degree, lexical. May 24, 2008

This has nothing to do with swallowing pride. A religious person will not be capable of writing a sermon for next Sunday automatically.

However, viewing advertising as a free-ranging, blue-skies kind of creativity is a bit, uhm, insul... , uh, that hurts. Good advertising means highly disciplined creativity. It takes many years until such skills are acquired. Ever noticed that there are not many people out there who were successful in this field? Unfortunately, only the bad advertising, committed by whatever nincompoops sticks in peoples' brains, yet good advertising makes it's way into international dictionaries, sneaky and obviously unnoticed. Successful translators did that.


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Ivana Friis Wilson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:54
Member (2008)
English to Danish
+ ...
Very interesting subject May 24, 2008

Excellent thread!

I quite often have trouble defining what a translator does if he / she does not translate word per word. Often clients ask me to translate with good sales copy in mind and so far I have not been in trouble

A while ago I did a proofreading where the translation was done more or less word per word - but it actually worked and I didn't feel th eneed to change the syntax or choice of words.

I find it hard to tell the client that if they want me to rewrite rather than translate, the price goes up as this implies that my translation work is of poorer quality than if I rewrite. So I usually end up with the same price.

The problem I guess is that translation is not an exact science. Then again, neither is copy writing.


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 01:54
Dutch to English
+ ...
Basic question May 24, 2008

Did the source text work?

Was it snappy and inventive?


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 23:54
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Just another dimension in translation May 24, 2008

There are several dimensions in translation.

One is the language pair. It's not as clear-cut as it may seem at first sight. Some translators work both ways in a pair, others don't. Some have a fraction of other languages, just enough to get the true meaning of e.g. esprit de corps, gestalt, jeitinho, porca miseria, slamkrypare, etc. without having to look them up.

Another one is the subject area, such as legal, engineering/technical, medicine, finance, religion etc. Again, it's not clear-cut, as there are many gray areas where these overlap. For instance, some equipment might mix medicine and electronics, legal and finance often get together, and so on. All these areas get together at the center, where the subject area is named "general"; not much "depth" in there, though.

A third dimension is media input, such as written text, audio, and video. Its corollary is the output media, which may mean crossing media borders, like sight translation, voice-over, etc. or not, which encompasses the whole realm of interpreting.

A fourth dimension - though not the last one - is writing style. This has more to do with writing ability in the target language, but it's easy to see the difference when the text is - by its nature - legal, technical, instructional, motivational, poetic, etc. Advertising copy is just one of these.

To illustrate, I once met a writer who was recruiting people to translate her fiction, somewhat mystic books. She was appalled at the results of the test translations received. Upon further questioning, it came out that she began recruiting among sworn translators, by definition fully qualified to translate any legal text. Of course, very few came out as also capable of doing a good job in translating her works, but this was out of sheer luck.

The professional having multiple writing styles must be wary to keep each one compartmentalized. Nobody would like to see catchy phrases in a commercial agreement. Technical writing in a household product ad is equally out of place. So an eclectic translator should avoid showing it off in one specific piece of work.

Anyway, a self-assessment is good to know what one can and, most of all, what one cannot offer in any dimension. Prices/rates are yet another dimension. Were translation or copywriting exact sciences, it would be possible to calculate them from all others, by means of an equation, where "markets served" would be one more dimension, and so on.

My usual 2¢.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
English to German
+ ...
José Henrique Lamensdorfs entry is brilliant May 24, 2008

Like legal translations, advertising translations are always about SOMETHING. You need to learn each and everything about the subject matter. Very often people think that writing advertising translation consists of sounding positive, happy, cute or snappy. Yay.

Most people don't realize that whatever stuff and description that is written in any advertising text may be part of a contract. Any false or exaggerated description may result in multi-million whatever currency lawsuits. I have no idea why advertising is considered an equivalent to spewing out hollow and entertaining phrases.


Edit: That's what I mean with disciplined creativity.

[Edited at 2008-05-24 12:50]


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 01:54
Dutch to English
+ ...
Actually, that's precisely what I was getting at ... May 24, 2008

Nicole Schnell wrote:

Most people don't realize that whatever stuff and description that is written in any advertising text may be part of a contract. Any false or exaggerated description may result in multi-million whatever currency lawsuits.



... with my (as yet unanswered) questions above Nicole.

My point in asking was this: if the client expects the translation to be snappy and inventive, then the source text should at least have been the same - otherwise the translator is potentially entering the realm of false or exaggerated advertising.

What constitutes mere 'puff' and what constitutes an offer capable of acceptance in the law of contract is very important - perhaps opening up another can of worms that translators don't think of in their quest to keep the client satisfied.

I'd like to see who the same client is going to point fingers at if he's sued on the translated version of the advert.



[Edited at 2008-05-24 13:58]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:54
English to German
+ ...
Truth well told May 24, 2008

Was the motto of my former employer, which I am not going to name here.

Putting all the facts and nothing else into the right yet catching words - that's the art. In a way that appeals to your specific clientele while being entertaining.

Edit: 'Nuff lala. The question is, did your client criticize you because your translation didn't have the same "oomph" as the original? It's usually a question of localization. Which will work only if you received an appropriate briefing regarding readership and such. Usually clients expect translators to do some homework and figure it out themselves.

[Edited at 2008-05-24 14:51]


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