From a translator’s viewpoint, choosing the right words is not always easy. Sometimes they are lurking on the tip of our tongue. Often they have a range of nuances and associations that can be misinterpreted, even if we speak the same language.
Adapting straplines for another country can be even trickier. This magic art requires us to be experts in marketing, have heaps of linguistic skills and real cultural awareness.
Like a cool hat trick that seems almost too good to be true, a clever composition of just a few words in a strapline can have a great impact – and as if by magic, it all makes sense. A strapline can position a brand and set it apart from competitors, pulling us in and making us remember the brand, values and personality. Who can forget Nike’s superb “Just do it” or McDonald’s catchy “I’m lovin’ it”?
Taking the spirit of such a brilliant strapline, disentangling and recreating it in another language whilst keeping it culturally relevant requires a flexible and artistic approach. Ultimately, the goal for us is to translate that core message – what the brand is really saying – to evoke the same emotions and ideally to have a similar impact. You could say our job is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Not always as easy as it looks.
So, what’s the secret to not getting lost in strapline adaptation?
Linguists are creatives. Like copywriters, we have to understand the intention, brand style, tone of voice and context – and, let’s not forget, those powerful emotions! We also need access to brand guidelines, reference materials and visuals – basically any information that can help us ‘get it’.
Linguists are investigators too. We need to recognise the cultural reality and the mind of the target audience. We have to think about how best to convey the message, consider what is currently trending, know what other brands are doing and anticipate how the strapline will be understood.
Linguists are also problem-solvers. To do a good job, we need to understand the aim, angle and approach. As with any type of creative copy, literal translation is a big no-no and we have to pay particular attention to tricks such as idioms and puns. The strapline should also sound natural, so reading it out loud is a good idea.
Linguists are, above all, communicators. We are often asked to provide several creative translations of a strapline, back-translations into English and rationale for our suggestions. Here we get the chance to give insights as to what works and not and explain why a particular option is better.
All you need to do is provide the top hat, and we’ll use this wizardry to pull out a magical strapline adaptation!