Some tips on translating marketing materials written in the style of 'marketese'. Focused on translation to Bulgarian, but possibly applicable to other languages, as well.

Every company wants to sell their product. To do that, every company tries to convince you that their product is the best. Or, more precisely, that their product is better than the one offered by the company next door. This is a fair business struggle in a world of free competition. The problem is that sometimes companies overdo it, and a simple knick-knack they're selling suddenly becomes the Next Best Thing, offering ultimate experience, unique features, and general, usually not well-identified, coolness. This is the realm of 'marketese' – a specialized lingo devised by corporate yuppies and used by copywriters when they're out of creative ideas. So far, so good. But then the companies go global. And they want their marketing materials translated in a number of languages. Enter the translator…

And here you are – you've been given a translation from 'marketese'. How do you do that? Here are some guidelines.

First of all and most important – never translate word for word. Of course, that applies to any translation, but it is especially important when dealing with marketese. Your translation from marketese could be as accurate as they make them, and still be a bad translation. The thing is, marketese needs to be localized. Every culture has a different level of tolerance for bombastic phrases, as well as for overly polite language. Marketese is a social phenomenon and should be adapted for the society it is being applied to; otherwise the result could be quite the opposite of what is expected. I will give my three favorite examples from my Marketese-English-to-Bulgarian endeavors.

1. Experience – The marketese dictionary starts and ends with this word. It is so common and so inappropriately used that once a fellow translator told me he tears his hair out whenever he sees it in a translation. Could anyone please tell me what is meant by 'clear audio experience', for example? Is it some spiritual adventure in a world beyond ours? Or is it just 'sound that you can clearly hear'? Seems to be the latter. So I simply translate it as 'clear sound'. If I were to translate it literally, it would really become something heavenly and intangible. The same logic applies to all other forms of experiences marketese comes up with, such as 'mobile email experience' (to be translated 'using email on your mobile phone'), 'rich touch experience' (one of my favorites, I am tempted to translate it literally and get a cheap laugh, but let's get serious – to be translated 'multifunctional touch screen' or something to that effect), etc.

2. Enjoy – another much too common marketese term. 'You can enjoy your music…' Thank you, I will enjoy it, but I'll translate that as 'You can listen to music'. The literal translation sounds too artificial, especially when it pops up in every other sentence. Other examples: 'enjoy your media and documents from every device' => 'open your media and documents from every device'; 'enjoy your podcasts' => 'watch your podcasts', etc.

3. Please, Congratulations, Thank you – in Bulgarian the literal translation of these polite words often sounds a bit overly polite, so I simply omit them. 'Please insert the CD' becomes 'Insert the CD', 'Congratulations! You've installed…' => the same, without the congratulations, and so on. It is not that Bulgarian is a rude language. But that much politeness goes over the top.

These are just some simple rules I stick to when translating from Marketese English to Bulgarian. Please note that they reflect only my personal opinion. There are no official guidelines, so other translators might disagree with some or all of the above. Also, the above might not be applicable to other languages and cultures. Like I said, it is a matter of adaptation to a specific society. So if you want the companies you are translating for to sell their stuff in your country – localize their marketese the right way!

Copyright, 1999-2006. All rights reserved. -
Translating from 'Marketese English'
Author: Yordan Yordanov
English to Bulgarian translator 
By Yordan Yordanov
Published on 05/4/2010
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