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Let’s be Frank

Lifting the lid on all things marketing, language, copy & transcreation.

London Underground Mind The Gap sign

The 6 big marketing copy adaptation watch-outs

Adaptation, creative translation, transcreation – it goes by many names, but they all boil down to the same thing: moving your advertising, marketing, or brand copy from one language into another.

The end.



That is, of course, just the beginning. Because marketing copy adaptation is fraught with potential pitfalls. And unless you know what they are, you can wind up with brand writing that’s at best ineffective and at worst downright damaging.

But lucky for you, we’ve seen them all (until tomorrow, when we’ll see a new one), and we’ve pulled together this list of the six big things to keep your beady eye out for before you press ‘play’ on your next marketing copy adaptation project.


1. What’s the big idea?

Behind every bit of decent brand writing is a concept. And capturing that concept is the main job of a marketing copy adaptation. Which is why you need to analyse your ad, understand the idea behind it, and make sure the person doing the translating does too.


2. What’s the tone?

Tone of voice is the way a brand talks. If your brand has tone of voice guidelines – lucky you! Give them to your translator. Have a cup of tea.

If it doesn’t, you’ll need to work the tone out for yourself. So ask: how does this copy sound? Is it wry? Is it formal? Is it flirtatious? Know your voice, and spell it out for your translator.

But remember: different regions have different tastes in tone. In the Netherlands, for example, we find people tend to get turned off by schmooze and spin – what sounds zippy in English can sound tacky in Dutch. So empower your translators to adjust the tone dial as needed for their language.


3. Will it work across cultures?

Not all ideas translate. This is a great ad:

But it will only make sense in regions that have bouncers, that have clubs, that have rules about footwear.

So step back, and work out if your creative relies on culturally-specific references. If it does, you might need to rework not just the words, but the idea, to make the message relevant to your new region.


4. Does your copy feature wordplay, alliteration, or rhyme?

If you don’t like puns, we feel sorry for you.

Asda delivery van that says 'Bang on thyme'


In English, this van is fun on wheels. But translated literally into any other language, all it does is tell you to hit herbs.

The moral of this story: if your writing hinges on verbal tricks or rhythmic devices, you need to work with your translator to recreate them.

And by ‘recreate’ we don’t mean ‘do it the same thing but in Spanish’, because you can’t. We mean: replicate the emotional effect the writing device is designed to have on the reader. So if rhyme makes your copy sound peppy and playful, how do you do that in Chinese? If repetition is giving your writing gravitas, what’s the equivalent in Arabic?

This is where talented translators and creative freedom are key. Because striking the right note often means swerving some way away from the original English.


5. Is it culturally appropriate for your new audience?

What’s A-OK in the UK won’t always fly in other parts of the world. So you need to be mindful of regional norms.

EXAMPLE TIME. It might make sense for a breast cancer awareness campaign to be up-front in Europe, but you’d need to take a different tack in the Middle East…

Navigating these norms and no-no’s is about more than avoiding offence. It’s about making sure your adapted marketing materials actually work in their new home.


6. Do you need to worry about gender or formality in your new language?

Gender and formality are baked into the grammar of lots of languages, and can make a big difference to how a piece of writing lands.

In German, for example, there are two ways to say ‘you’: ‘Sie’ if you’re feeling formal, and ‘du’ if you want to keep things casual. So what does a brand call its customers?

Well, that depends. On the brand, on its tone, on its audience. Get it wrong, and you can end up sounding either frostily formal or downright rude. So how do you choose which to use? You don’t. You leave it to an expert local writer to advise on what’s right.


Follow these simple tricks, and you’re well on your way to a pitch-perfect piece of marketing copy adaptation work. And if you need an extra hand, well, you know who to call 😉

(Us… we are who to call.)