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  • Catherine Laz,

When a black man is the wrong white man The diversity issue in transcreation

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Recently, I was confronted with the issue of diversity and ethnicity in transcreation when a creative thought it would be a good idea to illustrate my script with a stock image of a black man. That’s when the problem started. Yes, I wanted a person of African origin, but not a black African and even less an Afro-American.

As I wanted to tackle problems ethnic minorities were facing in France, I made sure I wrote the script with a French man of North African/Maghreb origin, the main victims of discrimination. In other words, I wanted Zidane not Will Smith. But that’s not what the Anglo-Saxon creative had in mind. When I raised the issue, I was perceived like a racist. They all missed the point. Black Afro-Americans cannot illustrate a script destined for France. Because, you’ve guessed it, they are none in France for a start, and the Muslim population is predominately white.

But for my creative, none of this mattered. He was used to see black people in ads in the UK and the USA and went ahead applying his “diversity criteria” to my campaign. It was OK for him that I transcreate words but he forgot about the ethnic and cultural landscape of France which is totally different from the UK. For him what best could illustrate diversity than a black man. Any black man would do. He never perceived the fact that diversity in France means something entirely different.

This is not the first time I encounter that kind of attitude. It shows a complete disregard for ethnic minorities, culture, history, and transcreation. I am the expert, transcreation in advertising doesn’t only concern words but visuals, people, food etc. Show the wrong visual and your campaign looses all credibility straight away.

So next time you hire a transcreator, make sure you let her/him do her/his job, from headline to casting. And don’t try to apply political correctness criteria when it will only cause grief and confusion.

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