It's About More Than Language

Simply Translating a Campaign May Be Cheaper, but It's Not Smart

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Alberto Ferrer Alberto J. Ferrer
Raise your hand if you would take communications created in Spanish for the Hispanic market, translate them into English, and use them to target mainstream consumers. I don't expect any hands to be up in the air.

Of course not!

So why in the world do many marketers think it is OK to translate from English-language mainstream communications into Spanish for the Hispanic audience?

Because they think it's more efficient. After all, if they already spent money developing work targeting the mainstream market, why not leverage that investment, amortizing the costs across more than one target market? The fact of the matter, however, is that it is not more efficient. It may be easier and cheaper, but it is not more efficient.

Efficiency is about results and not about just getting the work done and checking off the "Hispanic" box. Marketing communications should be tailored to the audience, be based on strategic insights, and present offers and incentives that are most likely to perform in the marketplace.

Time and again, we have tested and proven that communications that are developed specifically for the Hispanic audience, regardless of language, perform better. They change perceptions more effectively and they drive response and sales more cheaply.

Translating a message that resonates with a general market audience is in danger of at best missing the Hispanic audience, and at worst coming across as disingenuous or even insulting. Consumers can tell when a message is crafted with them in mind. It's the venerable "they get me," or "they're like me" notion. Similarly, they can tell when they're being targeted with a blunt tool.

At this point, some folks may be thinking that some "universal truths" exist that can be leveraged to market to all consumer segments. That is, if we find an insight that is broad enough, then every segment can be effectively addressed by the same message.

The problem with that assertion is that it harkens back to the era of the shotgun approach of broad-based undifferentiated mass marketing. Today we know better and therefore craft messaging that specifically targets our different audiences for maximum impact and optimal results.

Net, removing the English in a piece of creative and putting Spanish in its place is no more the way to go than translating a communication from Spanish to English. However, it's not just the fact that the work may be off base. The worst part is what may come afterwards.

The longer-term real danger is this: A company conducts a Hispanic-market test that is done with translated work from the general market. Because the Hispanic consumer is not engaged by the translated message, the test fails. The company then concludes that the Hispanic market is not a viable audience to pursue and thus abandons the effort, walking away from a $1 trillion opportunity. And that would really be unfortunate.
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