Stand Out for the Right Reasons This Festive Season

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Every festive season, a slew of media exuberantly rushes in where angels fear to tread. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading Global Content Management Services Provider headquartered in Singapore, provides a tip sheet for businesses on how to not allow the fierce battle for attention crowd out their own promotional campaigns.

Every festive season, a slew of media exuberantly rushes in where angels fear to tread. Nicholas Goh, CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading Global Content Management Services Provider headquartered in Singapore, provides a tip sheet for businesses on how to not allow the fierce battle for attention crowd out their own promotional campaigns.

Holiday noise and eye-candy thrust marketers into the realm of audiovisual media. This is all very exciting, but perilous too if managed at face value.

Interplay of Sights and Sounds

Audiovisual media, as the name suggests, is really about the mingling of sound and vision. Put in another way, it is about text and the senses. The interplay between the two modalities of sound and vision is where viewers will experience the message of the medium. Hence, translation of audiovisual media must consider not just the written script, but the accompanying visual cues as well. It is far more than "code-switching" from one language to another.

There is also cultural nuance. Translators must make judgment calls in what most people would consider grey areas of cultural transmission, such as inferential humor. To do this correctly requires great skill. Culture-specific advertising that appears during the holidays only heightens the potential for translations to fall wide off the mark.

The Jingle That Jangled

With the emphasis on commercials, it is easy to forget that for many around the world, the holidays are still holy days, a lesson that retailer Gap learned the hard way when its recent TVC campaign was boycotted by American Christian groups. The ad attempted to be too inclusive and featured a song with lines such as "Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice". The "Happy What-ever-you-wannakah" approach backfired badly, as Gap soon discovered.

Sights That Incite

Holiday advertising is charged with iconic images. At first glance, these might appear to carry a global appeal. Who doesn't like Santa Claus, right? However, cultural consensus on even the most seemingly benign images can go sadly awry if the translation does not take into account cultural awareness.

It's Funny - Not!

During the holiday season, humor is frequently used to convey good cheer, but humor is notoriously culture-specific. Audiovisual translators have to grasp not only language but the nuance of the identity the product or brand is trying to establish with holiday advertising. And often it is not enough to simply "get the joke".

Hidden Traps

During the holidays, translators need to keep an eye on specific aspects of cultural branding. For example:

  • Irony: Commonly used in American and Anglo advertising, irony is very easy to mistranslate.
  • Tone: What qualifies as good cheer in one culture may carry a distinctly different meaning in another.
  • Neologisms: Advertising frequently uses neologisms (or newly-coined phrases) that are culture-based, so translators need to be aware of the cultural background of new words.
  • Intended audience: What is deemed appropriate for teenage viewers, for example, in one place may not be deemed suitable in another.
  • Puns and word play: Puns are known to be almost impossible to translate accurately, and must be approached very carefully. Find a parallel pun from the specific culture which will induce a similar effect.
  • Voice inflections: Especially for holiday advertising, voice inflection must be translated to retain the original meaning. Otherwise, sincerity can come across as sarcasm, or vice versa.

Holistic Translation Solution

Avoid holiday blunders. Approach audiovisual translation holistically - carefully consider not only the interplay between sound and vision, but also cultural awareness. The challenge in current audiovisual translation is in ensuring that not only terminological and stylistic coherence are maintained throughout, but that linguistic and cultural adequacy of translations are also optimized. Given these challenges, audiovisual translation should be placed in the hands of professionals.

Before risking a campaign or even a brand, be sure to check the references and experiences of language service providers before deciding on one.

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Nicholas Goh
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