The Importance of Language in Marketing Campaigns

Being a copywriter at an ad agency is pretty rough. Not that I am a copywriter but when thinking about the challenges of writing ad copy and balancing the client's wishes, consumer's understanding and the campaign objectives, I wouldn't want to in a copywriter's shoes. Not even with the astronomical salaries they make... If we would add writing copy for global or multicultural or global marketing campaigns then it's an even greater hell.

Tone and Language In Marketing Campaigns

Copy writing is an old profession that started in the late 1880's and it evolves rapidly now that the web is changing how we express ourselves. Many might think that the images and the visuals of an ad creative is the most important but don't forget about the messages conveyed from the ad copy. There's a huge difference in ad print copy and web copy, of course, since the online ads are usually short and very concise. Print ads can be 100% text sometimes. Every good copywriter knows that the tone and the language used in the copy needs to be adapted to the target audience. Writing a B2B ad copy to a teenage audience will probably be useless and worth nothing as the language used doesn't correlate with how the teenage audience speaks. And if the target groups doesn't understand what the ad is saying, no one will listen to it. End effect is no sales and no result and everyone is miserable. Which is bad, of course, and proves that language in marketing campaigns is extremely important.

What Happens When The Target Audience Is Bi-lingual?

Good question. A couple of things adds to the complexity when writing copy for bi-lingual audiences.
  1. The level of understanding and proficiency of the new (host) language that the individual has
  2. The difference in culture between the old country and the new (host) country
  3. The actual wording and words used in the ad
Let's break this down further:

The level of understanding and proficiency of the new (host) language that the individual has

This one is tricky - everyone in marketing wants to create an ad that is well-written, smart and grammatically advanced to show their skills. This is natural as we all want to excel in what we do and show our peers that we are worth the pile of money they pay at the end of the month. A lot of studies have been made on how language affects the emotions and the behavior of the target audience. One of the (many) fascinating things about marketing is that (almost) everyone can be affected by the messages and moved in one or another direction. Usually in the direction to buy a product...Now imagine if you don't speak the language that well and you see commercials on TV or online without getting the message. A lot of media $$$ that was invested is wasted due to this. "One of the first signs of education is the use of short, expressive English, instead of the muddled jargon of eight syllables which reflects the muddled mind." (Dr Fieldhouse, McGill University, year unknown) Language marketing One way of getting around this is to write in basic language meaning short sentences, no overly complex words and with paragraphs and space in the text. Basically the same way you should write web copy so people understand! For multicultural audiences, by using shorter and simplified sentences in the language in marketing campaigns they will be able to grasp the message in the copy and better relate to the product/service offered. This is actually harder than it seems as much of the language we write we do to show our intellectual capacity and that's why we try to write (too) advanced than it needs to be.

The difference in culture between the old country and the new (host) country

Culture takes time to learn and it's not easy. So it's better not to expect that everybody reading your ad will understand any subtle, implicit culturally related message. Irony and culture is similar - either you get it or you don't. Geert Hofstede's different cultural dimensions (Individualism versus collectivism), (Masculinity versus femininity and more, is being viewed as a cornerstone for how countries differ from each other culturally. Immigrants take their old culture with them and countries with a high degree of masculinity can have a hard time understanding humorous ads about men, for instance. At the same time, an ad that makes fun of the family will probably be more appreciated with people from a collectivist culture where people are used to bigger family gatherings.

The actual wording and words used in the ad

Finally, and perhaps the most obvious one, is the importance of the wording and the words used in the ad itself. In Sweden, the Turkish word for "broadband" is not commonly used among Turkish immigrants (probably because they emigrated before the broadband was introduced) so when writing Turkish copy the word used is the Swedish one inside the Turkish ad copy. Another reversed example is the Spanish company Berjuan, launched their Bebé Glotón on the US market and while the baby doll is very cute the translated name "The Breast Milk Baby" did not resonate well with the US audience. Having a "breast-feeding baby" wasn't something US consumers was interested in since that topic is considered more private than in regions like Scandinavia where it's more accepted in public. Using the right and appropriate language in marketing campaigns may sound easy but is more complex than at first sight. As always, test the copy on a small sample that fits the multicultural profile you're writing it for (the neighbor, the landlord or your kid's dad). This will give you a heads up on if the message is working or not. After all, you don't want to get in on the list of Multicultural Marketing Blunders, do you?
Written by Niklas Nikolaidis

Niklas Nikolaidis is the founder of Joinville; a trading desk and SaaS ad platform that powers digital multicultural campaigns via direct and programmatic media buying.