Translate This

Respecting a Brand's Voice Regardless of Language

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
I was recently reminded of an e-mail that I sent to the top management at (pre- TBWA) Chiat Day. That e-mail went out about 12 years ago. I never got an answer. The subject of the e-mail read "Translate This."

Over a decade ago, my agency had been invited to reside inside of Chiat Day's landmark binocular building in Venice, Calif., and serve as a Hispanic marketing resource. The immediate need was on the Home Savings of America business. There was also an opportunity to do some project work with Nissan. Today, the binocular building is no longer Chiat Day; Home Savings of America is also just a memory. Nonetheless, time has still not eliminated many of the basic problems that existed between so-called "general market" agencies and their specialized Latino marketing partners -- whether they be in-house or freelance. While much has improved, the behavior that prompted my "Translate This" e-mail is still alive and well.

It started with a simple request. Could our agency take existing English-language Infiniti newspaper creative and make it work for a Spanish-language newspaper? Media had gone ahead and put a Spanish-language publication on the buy in Miami and -- surprise -- none of the work was in Spanish. No problem. Hispanic agency partner to the rescue. Consider it done. Just sign the estimate, please. "Estimate? Oh!?" reacts account person from the so-called general-market agency. "Let us get back to you."

Days go by. No news. Hispanic agency account executive inquires and is informed that the Miami-based newspaper did the work for free. Problem solved. Infiniti ad in Spanish complete. Check that box off. "On second thought," decides so-called general-market account person, "could Hispanic agency review the newspaper's work? Just to be sure it's good to go. And, oh yes, could we do it for free?"

We do. The work is in Spanish. The Spanish is not wrong. It is, however, wrong for Infiniti.

This is a concept that so-called general market agency account person doesn't seem to grasp. Or doesn't want to. Sometimes it's hard to tell. What is clear is that the so-called general-market account executive just wants a yes-or-no answer. Is the Spanish right or wrong? Never mind the nuances.

They're missing the point. It's all about nuances. Brands have voices. The voice of Nissan is not the voice of Infiniti. That's as true in English as it is in Spanish. All English is not created equal. All Spanish is not created equal.

"Oh, you mean it's a translation?" offers so-called general market account executive. "But we asked for a transcreation," they add, stumbling upon the word "transcreation" as if it too was in a second language. This has little to do with translations versus transcreations or adaptations or trans-ideations or with any of the words that refer to in-language work conceptually based upon existing English-language source material. It has nothing to do with any differences in vocabulary or pronunciation that exist from Latino group to group to group. In other words, this isn't a Cuban-vs.-Mexican thing. It's a brand thing.

I'm not sure what I expected when I hit "send" on the e-mail titled "Translate This." I certainly expected an answer from at least one of the five people to whom it was sent. I expected someone to address my questions, whether they agreed or not. Perhaps we could engage in debate, share perspectives, work toward positive change or at minimum a better understanding of the status quo. The basic questions posed in the e-mail were:
  1. Why would an agency with such a well-deserved reputation for creative excellence allow creative work to be handled by newspaper writers simply because they happen to speak Spanish? If the newspaper staff is acceptable as copywriters, then why not farm out the English-language work as well? Get rid of copywriters altogether. Keep someone around to come up with overarching ideas, but after that anyone who can write English should be able to fill in the rest.

  2. Why was Hispanic work not budgeted for? Thinking and writing takes time. Thinking and writing well takes even more time, and that has a value. It should not be offered up for free.

  3. Why was such a distinctive brand being allowed to communicate with Spanish speakers in such a mundane voice simply because the words sort-of-kind-of added up to what the English version said?
I got no response. Time marched on.

Just this week I saw an excellent Infiniti ad in an upscale Spanish language publication called Alma. The work communicates in Spanish and in-culture. It also communicates in the voice of the Infiniti brand. Kudos to the client and the agency team responsible for the work. It respects the consumer and the brand.

In this day and age, there are certainly relationships that exist between Latino agencies and their non-Latino agency counterparts that are built on respect and a desire to do the right thing while also doing things right. At the same time, the same old problems still persist. Somewhere there is a brand whose voice is being distorted when it comes time to communicate with Spanish speakers. There's a so-called general-market account executive who just wants to meet a deadline and can't be bothered with nuance. And there's a Latino marketing specialist who is ready to write an e-mail titled "Translate This." I hope that at least she gets an answer.
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