Global marketing: Writing creatively for foreign markets


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It’s your job to write creative content. And whether it is marketing collateral, advertising material or promotional pieces, they have to be witty, interesting and most importantly, effective.

Yet when you are planning to share your creative content globally, you have to be sure its messaging continues to resonate with your target audiences. But if you don’t speak the language, and are not responsible for translations, how can you be sure?

Writing creatively for foreign markets certainly isn’t easy, but there are ways you can avoid difficulties with your translation provider – and inflated translation costs. Below are a few reasons linguists find creative content difficult to translate and what you can do to be sure that your writing will be easily adaptable for any foreign market.

Creative content and localization: Two peas in a pod

The very title of this section could be difficult to translate for foreign consumers. Why is that, do you think? You guessed it – idioms.

If you’re familiar with the phrase “two peas in a pod,” you know it is used to express two things that are similar in nature. So the title of this section isn’t suggesting that creative content and localization are actually two parts of a green vegetable. Rather, it means that creative content and localization are comparable. Just like “know the ropes” means to understand something and “tie the knot” suggests someone is getting married.

For a linguist working with your company’s content, idioms like these can be thoroughly confusing. Idioms are expressions that can be less-familiar or even nonexistent in different cultures. In which case, it makes translation very difficult – and sometimes not even possible. Instead of using informal language such as idioms and colloquialisms, focus on writing content that is more straightforward and to the point.

Globalize branding, not office-speak

Whether the intent is to gain recognition, credibility, buyer motivation or consumer loyalty, branding is an important part of any global organization. Yet focusing too heavily on your brand’s unique language could result in undesirable consequences. This is because it’s a form of jargon or a specific language that your organization uses. Unless you’re already a well-known brand, or plan on explaining specific terminology within your content, avoid confusing your customers by writing in a voice loaded with corporate jargon. And for any branding terminology that you want kept consistent across all target languages, work with your translation provider to create glossaries which help solidify your brand messaging in all target languages.

Avoid other forms of jargon as well, such as professional lingo, geographic-specific terms or slang words. These commonly do not translate well because of their regional use and fluctuation in meaning. If you find yourself questioning whether your messaging will be confusing in another language, just seek your translation provider’s opinion.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Nobody knows.

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Probably nobody if your global content contains poorly translated jokes or humor. Even when jokes and other humorous attempts are made in the same language they can be misinterpreted by audiences. When trying to present them globally, it can be even more difficult because of the humor nuances and language differences in other cultures. You don’t want to leave your global audience scratching their heads – or worse yet, offended – by your missed attempt at humor.

Sarcasm can also be a difficult form of expression to translate. Usually associated with humor or jokes, it can often confuse or discourage audiences – especially when it is left unexplained. Rather than incorporating numerous jokes and sarcastic copy in your company’s content, work with your translation provider to transcreate content for your foreign markets.

A pinch of this, a quart of that

Numbers can be confusing – especially when they are misrepresented in different cultures. While it is up to your translation provider to ensure measurements and other numerical representations are converted correctly, incorporating numbers in your creative content can make translation difficult. For example, a four-leaf clover is often considered lucky in the United States. But in Japan, four is pronounced “ku,” which is the same pronunciation for the word agony – therefore it is commonly associated with bad luck in the Japanese culture. Needless to say, you might not have as much luck weaving numerical references into your content.

Also consider other numerical culture differences, such as currencies, phone numbers, grade and school levels, measurements, etc. These can all make localization difficult and cumbersome for your translation team. To avoid this, note and explain any numerical references to ensure they are localized accurately by your translation provider. And when possible, use numbers that are more widely accepted, such as the metric system, when discussing measurements. Or use numbers that can be easily replaced, like providing phone numbers that are suitable for international calls.


There are many ways you can write creatively for foreign markets. The first step is to be cognizant of cultural differences and make adjustments when necessary. We hope these tips help you become more aware of localization and how you can apply them to your company’s creative content.

For more tips on how to successfully market globally, see our best practice brief Global marketing translations: 6 best practices for preserving your brand’s identity.
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Rachel Chilson
Rachel is a marketing communications coordinator at Sajan, a world-recognized language translation services provider. Sign up for Sajan Blog posts to receive new translation best practices every week.


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