Beware of marketing material "Translations"!
Thread poster: moonchild

moonchild  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:58
German to English
+ ...
Nov 14, 2003

I have only recently started to read the forum. After completing a large job, I treated myself and spend all day Saturday reading and learning from my fellow translators. Thank you! It really helped me "charge my batteries".

I know this topic has been discussed before, but I want to bring it up one more time:
Watch out for marketing material!

I am a technical translator with a good track record, and although I know better, I let myself be talked into the translation of a marketing video for an appliance that I am familiar with, but which I wouldn't know how to market. Now, I am very aware of the problems related with marketing material "translations", and I know that a "translation" usually doesn't cut it. So, my first response was, of course, NO WAY!
But trying to be nice, I thought I might have found the perfect solution: I would let a professional translator in the target country translate the instructions!
Well, they were interested but suggested that I should do the first translation (because that would be cheaper), and they would review the text with end users from the industry. So far, so good.
For the next few days I spent a lot of time on the internet researching the subject matter, terminology, style of speech, etc. and then translated the script to the best of my ability.
I sent the script to the target country, and two days later I received the reply that the experts had reviewed the text and found it "acceptable without reservations". There were only very minor changes and I was almost surprised that the translation had been accepted so well.
Anyway, I forwarded the reviewer's comments to my customer, implying that I had done the best I could under the circumstances.

Today I got a call from the customer telling me that the end recipients of the script absolutely hated it, that it might as well have been translated by a machine, and that it is practically unusable, so they had to rewrite the whole thing.

I expect it ended up in the marketing department of the end customer in the target country. There, it was probably rewritten for the target country from a marketing standpoint - as it should have been.

Now I am very depressed because my customer blames me for doing a bad job and making them look bad, and I am angry at myself for attempting to find such a "great" solution to a problem I should have rejected in the first place.

Personally, I feel that the entire project was handled in the wrong way altogether.

1) The end customer should have sent the video to the marketing department in the target country and have it translated right there and then. The guys in the marketing department are the only ones, who know how sell this particular device successfully.

All I could do was to provide a translation.
I am not a marketing expert. I expected that when the video is actually made, the people reading the script would make the necessary changes.

Did I do the wrong thing? How am I going to explain this to my customer?



Local time: 12:58
English to French
+ ...
Send him this letter Nov 14, 2003

They will understand. Or they are not worth of the worry.


Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
English to German
+ ...
Your reviewers did a bad job and your agency did even worse Nov 14, 2003

Next time when an (other) agency will offer you a marketing text, you could ask them (before you accept!) whether you should do only the translation, or also the linguistic and the marketing review, which are 2 further steps (to be paid).
The reviews must be done by other persons, of course, but you could offer to coordinate this.
This will not safeguard you against negligent reviewers or brokers pretending to be agencies,
but simply by pointing out the necessary proceeding for a professional marketing text you will get rid of the responsibility for this kind of "misunderstanding".
In most cases you will get rid of the job, too, because the broker will realize that he cannot fool you this way, but this would be another solution (for you).icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2003-11-14 22:59]


Alexander Chisholm  Identity Verified
Italian to English
+ ...
I have also given up on this. Nov 14, 2003

Reading your posting I suddenly thought,"that sounds like me".

I have experienced all you mention, and my conclusions, like yours, are --forget it. Stick to tech. work, at least you know where you stand.

Someone else made a posting a few days ago complaining of non-payment, but the reasons given by the client were related to what you are talking about. He said he received a marketing text to translate, did the job, and then was told it was no use as it wasn't flashy enough (I'm paraphrasing here). His answer was if they don't want a translator, hire a copy writer, which is of course correct.

The problem, at least in my experience, lies with the translation agencies, who are purely commercial in nature, and have very scant linguistic experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all agencies are like this, I'm sure most are not, and I work for a few who certainly are not, but there are a few out there (they know who they are!!) and they do not have a clue about the role of a translator. They get clients (presumably by telling them whatecer) based on bottom line criteria - i.e. cheap job, quick turnaround - and then pass it on to a translator, often with no instructions of what the ends client wants (sometimes Isuspect the end client doesn't know either). No TMs preferred glossaries etc. nothing. They receive your translation and pass it on without even reviewing it (because they're not capable of), you honestly have to ask yourself what they are charging their fee for!!

Enough said, its late and I'm going to bed after a long hard day, rant mode is now over.



T_Herrmann (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:58
German to English
+ ...
True, true, and true... Nov 15, 2003

The funny part is, take a "proposed" marketing text from marketing agency A and have marketing agency B in the same country review it. They'll say its crap. And that's speaking monolingually, now add the aspect of "translation".

Marketing in itself has always been a bit of a "hazy" subject zo me. I just guess all of these folks don't really know what they want themselves.

And the of course there is this "very special" kind of marketing agency that orders the same translation from three different vendors just to be able to present "three different approaches" to their clients. Heck, why not, just reject the other two as "crap" and pay the one who's material you use.

Naa, I think I have had it with marketing.

Just my 2 cents...


Klaus Herrmann  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:58
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Sad but true. Nov 15, 2003

T_Herrmann wrote:
The funny part is, take a "proposed" marketing text from marketing agency A and have marketing agency B in the same country review it. They'll say its crap. And that's speaking monolingually...

Yep. Been there, done that. No reason to give up on marketing texts though. If you work with direct client, it can be very rewarding.

[Edited at 2003-11-15 01:13]


Paul Roige (X)
Local time: 12:58
English to Spanish
+ ...
Now hang on a sec... Nov 15, 2003

moonchild wrote:
Well, they were interested but suggested that I should do the first translation (because that would be cheaper), and they would review the text with end users from the industry. So far, so good.

Did they really say that?
Forgive my ignorance, but I just don't get it. Were they really interested? Were they too busy maybe? Cheaper for whom? Did you contact other (keener) translators to compare?


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
do not take it personally Nov 15, 2003

First of all you should live in the target country and have the target language native or almost so.
But in any case it should be a 2-stage process. Probably the marketin fellows in the target country do not understand the source text, because they know only English in adition to their own. So your translation tells them, what its all about and they can "create" their own text.
A typical field where all marketing is done via translation is tourist information. Source texts, whose target is the own population, are translated for foreign tourists without much thought and distributed right away. Its a habit that sticks.


mrippa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:58
English to Italian
I agree with an assertion... Nov 15, 2003

moonchild wrote:

I would let a professional translator in the target country translate the instructions!

Great! That's a good start. If you stick to this simple rule, you will never feel embarassed for a job for which you spent so much time and fatigue. I don't want to look harsh, especially after your bad experience, but what really has been discussed before, in a number of times here, is not the marketing issue, but how good could be a translation made by a translator whose mother tongue differs from the target language.
Regards and good luck


moonchild  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:58
German to English
+ ...
Thanks, everyone ... Nov 15, 2003

... for taking the time to respond and sharing your stories! It was a great relief for me to see that I am not all alone with this problem. I appreciate the good advice and suggestions. Wow, isn't the internet great!

After the fog of the initial shock started to drift away, I did some more thinking. I guess the bottom line is that I took a risk, and it didn't work out. Simple as that.
Judging by some of your responses, I think it is only fair to give you some more background information:

I have been working for the agency, who asked me to do job, for many years. The agency changed hands a couple of years ago, and I continued to work for the new owners. Now they have also changed PM's recently, so there are some new people I am working with.
Since I have been working for the agency for so long while at the same time still being new to the PM's, I am especially embarrassed. They do work as sort of a broker and rely on the translator to submit a perfect job, which, by the way, I am not entirely comfortable with.

Paul wondered about the "and they were interested" bit. That probably sounded a bit vague. What happened, was this: I had met the person I chose for the review during an on-site job, where he actually supervised me. He undertstands the translation business very well, and the translators working for him in the target country are doing great work (I have seen it). I mentioned this job to him half jokingly, but he got actually very excited about it and mapped me out "the great plan". I also know that he takes great pride in his work, and I have not reason to doubt him.

Massimo - well, my mother tongue is the target country's language. I am not a native English speaker. But you are making a very good point: after living more than 10 years in another country, one should admit to not having as good a grip on certain aspects of the mother tongue. Having said that, I want to immediately add that I am only speaking for myself - others may vehemently disagree with me. That's another reason, why I turned the job down.

I completely agree with those of you, who insisted on the two/multistep process. To create a quality product like this, it takes teamwork.

Anyway, what did I learn:

1) Don't let yourself get talked into something, if you know better.

2) Discuss with the customer what it takes to get the job done right.

3) Remember that there might be political reasons, why a translation is not accepted.
Maybe the marketing department never wanted to have the text translated in the US, or maybe they were hurt that weren't asked for advice, so they will do everything they can to trash the translation. Requesting input from the end customer is always a good idea, at least I think so.

4) Verify your resources as much as possible to avoid unpleasant surprises. With other words: Don't deliver unless you are absolutely sure you can deliver!

Why does the whole thing bother me so much?
I read a posting from a fellow translator, who, after working for years with an obviously wonderful agency, was put on standby after not being able to completely satisfy their requests for one job.
I find that very disturbing.

Anyway, next week I will get to see the revised marketing version ...


invguy  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:58
English to Bulgarian
Marketing is a very different beast, that's for sure Nov 16, 2003

When I first stumbled upon KudoZ, I was amazed to see so many (in my view) requests for translating fairly tricky marketing-related phrases - including ad slogans and company mottos/taglines.

Hey folks, this is stuff in which cultural differences, target market specifics, marketing strategy quidelines and second-level connotations are MUCH more important than linguistic considerations. I have been working in the field of advertising for well over a decade now, so I can assure you this is how things are. In marketing, what we call 'translation' is actually *rewriting* - where not only the words, but the overall meaning may need to be changed - and this is normally done by specially trained copywriters, having heaps of relevant marketing information at their disposal. Often a marketing pro without language education would give a better version than a dozen of highly educated and skilled linguists. I realize it's a bit heretic to say this on a translators' forum - but it's true nonetheless.

Being specialized as a translator in a certain field does not necessarily mean that you can handle marketing text, even if it refers to that field (I mean the text bits & pieces that are to be presented to the audience as the textual component of advertising materials). Regardless of my own experience (I'm basically a graphic designer/art director working primarily for the advertising industry), when I need to translate a marketing text, I *always* work in close cooperation with the ad agency that will be using it. IMHO this is the formula to be followed. The best result is achieved through gradual iterations, where the translator and the ad guys exchange ideas, the translator explains the linguistic specifics, hazards and connotations, and the ad guys decide which of the ideas can be used and which can't, according to their professional criteria (which are the criteria that ultimately matter).

Not to mention that coming up with the appropriate ad slogan for a certain market is *way* more expensive than the translation of a phraseicon_smile.gif

So, moonchild, your first response (that "NO WAY") was absolutely correct. By subsequently agreeing to take the job *without* having the opportunity of exchange with the end user, you took quite a risk - and things happened to go the wrong way.That would be my comment.

I also tend to neglect my first response in favour of 'additional considerations' - and I usually curse afterwards...icon_smile.gif)


mrippa  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:58
English to Italian
I too find it disturbing... Nov 17, 2003

moonchild wrote:

Why does the whole thing bother me so much?
I read a posting from a fellow translator, who, after working for years with an obviously wonderful agency, was put on standby after not being able to completely satisfy their requests for one job.
I find that very disturbing.

Yes moonchild, this is an example of the hard things that we have to face being freelancers. I too have heard of fellow translators, who worked for years with agencies that were always satisfied with their work, whose work relations had an end for a very single mistake. That's disturbing and disgusting, from my point of view.
On the other hand I have heard of other colleagues, who experienced the end of long time collaborations with trustwhorty agencies, not because they did a single mistake, but just because they were ill for accepting an urgent job or because a new project manager had to cut costs. In some measure I too experienced this frustrating situation. So, a freelancer has to face very hard situations just for not accepting a single job. I have a bitter taste in my mouth. Anyway, life is a struggle.


United Kingdom
Local time: 11:58
English to German
+ ...
Marketing is my bread-and-butter business Nov 18, 2003

Many people on Proz cover all sorts of areas: technical + literary + marketing, you name it. If you want to secure a decent income just concentrate on what you're good at, the right language combinations and areas of expertise you feel really comfortable with.


Melina Kajander
English to Finnish
+ ...
Yes, we are not all technical translators... Nov 18, 2003

Based on my own experience, I could just as well have written a post called "Beware of technical translations"...!icon_smile.gif
Based on the same experience, I would rather take on a marketing material translation than a technical one...

This quote from your message really says it:
"I am not a marketing expert."
So, you just can't generalize, it depends on your expertise, interests, etc., what kind of texts you should take on!

(If your post was solely targeted to technical translators, then I'm sorry to have meddled in, but I don't remember you saying so in your message...)

Just to clarify, I was quite inexperienced when I took on those technical (to me at least) translations, now I know better...

[Edited at 2003-11-24 11:12]


Kurt Hammond  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:58
Japanese to English
On this topic.... Jan 7, 2004

This slightly digresses from the topic, but obviously to expand our horizons and build our competencies, we need to take on work that is outside our comfort zone. I too had a marketing-related job once (it was for a short 8 page brochure or leaflet describing the abilities of a web firm). I was uncomfortable slightly but the job turned out well with no complaints (that's not to say the customer wasn't satisfied and simply didn't tell me).

So, to what degree is it 'ethical' to push the comfort level and take on jobs out of our area of expertise so we can expand that area of expertise?


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