The Impact of Culture on Translation and Localization

Ciklopea 6 months ago 7 min

Let’s say you own a multinational company. You’re looking to market a new line of luxury watches in both the United States and Japan. The advertising campaign is centered around the theme of “timeless elegance” and features images of elegant, mature models wearing your watches against a backdrop of classical European architecture.

In the US, this campaign might be seen as an effective way to convey your brand’s sophistication and heritage. However, when the same campaign is launched in Japan, it faces a cultural challenge.

Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on youth and contemporary aesthetics. Classical European architecture may evoke feelings of aging and nostalgia, which are not aligned with the Japanese consumer’s preference for modernity and youthfulness. What may be perceived as timeless elegance in one culture may translate as outdated to another.

Did you know you can hire Ciklopea for cultural consulting? Our experts know all about culturally sensitive communication, minimizing misunderstandings, and respecting local norms. Book a call with us today.

Why Culture Matters in Translation and Localization

Have you ever experienced cultural shock? It’s a feeling of disorientation, confusion, and discomfort that people may experience when they are exposed to a completely new and unfamiliar culture.

The world is incredibly diverse and rich in traditions, beliefs, and values. When where you come from clashes with a completely different culture, you might feel isolated, alone, frustrated, or homesick.

A similar thing happens in interactions with global brands. To succeed, it’s important that your company not only speaks your customers’ language, but also to make sure your message gets across by paying attention to the cultural context.

From linguistic nuances and cultural beliefs and values, to user experience and a deep understanding of consumer expectations around the world – there’s a lot you need to know.

Linguistic Nuances, Subtext, and Emotions

Linguistic nuances allow translators and localization experts to navigate the cultural sensitivities of the target audience. They help in avoiding content that may be considered offensive, inappropriate, or culturally insensitive.

Additionally, cultures use language in many different ways to convey emotions and subtext. Understanding these nuances helps you to accurately translate not just words but also the intended emotional and cultural context.

Marketing and localization departments sometimes need to make tough calls when it comes to adapting content. It’s a delicate act that requires balancing their company’s interest with what their customers want and expect. Here’s one example: Haribo candy.

Haribo is well-known for its jingle: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo”. The upbeat melody is simple, it gets stuck in your head easily, and it’s just very positive.

But how does this one-liner translate to other cultures?

For the company, it was far more important to preserve the brevity and melody than it was to precisely translate the sentence. Here’s how they handled localizing it for different markets:

  • Spanish: Vive un sabor mágico, ven al mundo Haribo (“Experience a magical taste, come to the world of Haribo”)
  • Germany: Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso (“Haribo makes children happy, and grown-ups too”)
  • Italian: Haribo è la bontà, che si gusta ad ogni età (“Haribo is the great thing that you can eat at any age”)

Understanding Cultural Values Helps You Stay Relevant

Let’s take a look at one example of a global brand that became a synonym for athletic leisure and excellence: Nike. Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” is famous because of its brevity and the motivational power it holds. It inspires people to build healthier habits and overcome the default behavior of making excuses.

The challenge for Nike was to adapt this slogan to different target markets around the world. To achieve this, Nike used the “Ideal Man” framework, which is built upon questions drawn from sociology and social anthropology. Some of the questions Nike’s experts asked were the following:

  • How is the Ideal Man embedded in society?
  • What are the deepest values that describe his orientation towards others around him, and theirs to him?
  • How does his culture define the way he should operate in the world?
  • Which of his skill types are particularly honored in his culture?
  • How is he distinguished from women?

With the help of this framework, the team was able to precisely define each culture and inform the localization and marketing teams. For example, their research showed that in the US consumers are driven by the possibility of leaving their mark on the world, while in the UK people lean more towards living a good life. Nike has created campaigns that speak to these values, which is one of the many reasons this company is estimated at almost $150 billion.

Consumer Behavior Varies Depending on Culture

If you want to create meaningful experiences that resonate with your global audiences, you need to understand how consumers in a target market behave, make decisions, and interact with products or services.

However, ensuring your global customers have content available in their preferred language is just the start. You also need to think about the visual elements, because graphic design, color choices, and imagery can have cultural connotations. Additionally, you need to think about the cultural context and references; for example, historical events, famous figures, and popular trends that are familiar and relevant to the target audience.

Hiring a cultural consultant can help you understand the best way to adapt to different markets. For example, some cultures are individualistic while others are collectivist.

In individualistic cultures, the emphasis is placed on the individual’s autonomy, independence, and personal achievements. These cultures (e.g., the US, Canada, Western Europe) often prioritize personal goals, self-expression, and individual rights. When it comes to consumer behavior, they value individuality, unique items, and personalized products that they use to communicate their interests and values.

In collectivistic cultures, the emphasis is on the group, community, or family over the individual. These cultures (e.g., Japan, Korea, China) prioritize harmony, cooperation, and interdependence among members. They tend to purchase and use the same products and services as people around them.

Knowing the culture of the market you are expanding to will help you understand their shopping habits, decision-making processes, and the way they form brand loyalty. This data will inform your translation and localization strategy.

Need Help with Cultural Consulting and Localization?

As you can see, culture permeates every aspect of translation and localization, influencing language, design, messaging, and user experiences. This is why you need to be aware of the cultural context in which content will be received. Easier said than done, right?

Instead of trying to detangle the complexity of different cultures, you should partner with language service providers that also have cultural consulting within their services. Ciklopea has been in the business for more than 20 years, acting as a gatekeeper for quality and a partner for removing communication barriers.

If you’re interested in exploring whether or not we’d be a good fit, book a call with us today. We’re always happy to hear from you.


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