How to Translate Marketing Content into Spanish

We recently blogged about why U.S. businesses need to translate to Spanish to cater to the 53-million strong (and growing!) Hispanic population. We interviewed Carlos Garcia-Arista, a professional translator, by email about his experiences in translating marketing content into Spanish. Here’s what he had to say:

Do companies regularly translate advertisements and marketing material when targeting Spanish-speaking audiences?

I can think of many ads that cross borders in the original version, or are translated only in part. Nike’s “Just do it” or McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” are widely loved, so is the subtitled BMW commercial with Bruce Lee. It is possible to watch ads on Spanish TV that don’t contain a single word of Spanish, like Calvin Klein’s “We’re one” campaign.

But the best campaigns are those that manage to balance the global and the local aspects of marketing. Take Coca-Cola’s “Benditos Bares” (Blessed Pubs), a campaign exclusively created for the Spanish market. Their success in being seen as a part of the local backdrop is mind-blowing. You know how much people everywhere love to believe the most positive clichés about themselves, and Spain is no exception to the rule. Flattery worked well.

The same thing can be said about Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. The campaign “Primer beso”(First Kiss) exploits very effectively the Argentinean obsession with romance. McDonald’s “Qué bueno que viniste” (Glad You Came) ads showcase the Latin American consumer’s love of entertaining guests in their homes.

What instructions do you receive from clients to translate consumer-facing content?

The first concern for translation clients are the different versions of Spanish in 20 Spanish-speaking countries, comprising 469 million speakers. What can be considered polite or neutral in one variant of Spanish may be inappropriate in other, and the countries in the client’s list often encompass a wide range of varieties. Neutral Spanish is an attempt made by translators to select words that would be understood or best suited to the widest possible international target audience. It’s a cost-effective solution (as clients incur the cost to translate website content or marketing materials only once), but it works better in academic or technical texts. When the text is more casual, as it happens with marketing content, neutral Spanish poses a greater challenge to the translator.

Do clients understand that they need more than just word-for-word translation in such cases?

They understand it only too well! And I’m glad that they demand a meaningful translation because in the field of marketing, being literal leads to a complete loss of effectiveness. It feels like a waste of time. To deliver a context-aware translation, they have to provide exactly that: the context. Marketing content can be very ambiguous. Copywriters are all the time coining new terms and they abandon old ones in the blink of an eye. Even technical words can get “lost in localization” if the translator has to work with strings or words or a text without a frame of reference.

Can you cite examples of words, phrases or assignments that required special research to make them culturally relevant?

By the hundreds!

In one of my posts for Smartling, Translating the Antipodes, I talked about the translation of track names for the Sounds of Nature albums, registered in Australia by Dr. Eric Fassbender. To make the names of endemic Australian species and places “culturally relevant” for a Spanish-speaking public definitively required a lot of research.

Sports is a field in which I have worked both as a translator and a journalist. In sports, the different versions of Spanish complicate the life of the translator a lot. For example, “portero” in Spain means goalkeeper. In Latin America though, most people would say “arquero.” With enough space, you could use something neutral like “guardameta.” But translating an app, in a box that only allows for an abbreviation of three letters, things get complicated. Nobody would think of a goalkeeper if they read three letters from “guardameta.”

Maybe the most demanding job I had in terms of the cultural gap was with this psychology professor from Los Angeles. He wanted to translate marketing content about his services as a speaker and media expert. I had to do a lot of research not only about psychology but also American immigration laws and other subjects of interest for Hispanics in the U.S. This is the key of context-aware translation: It’s not enough to get the meaning right, you have to address the target audience in their own language and they have to know that the material is written for them. I even had to research the use of some terms from Latin America that the professor wanted me to use, like “radioescucha” (listener), “reporte” (report), and “conferencista” (speaker).

If you’re a translator and would like to write on translation-related topics, please write to us. We’d be happy to feature you!