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  • Catherine Laz,


Remember the multi-awarded campaign for Wonderbra by TBWA London?

It generated headlines and made its CD Trevor Beatie and model Eva Herzigova famous. It was even voted the most iconic poster of all time by the public.

Not so in France.

No wonder (no pun intended). The headline ran on three lines and was “transcreated” into a slogan so twisted that I doubt anyone took the time to read it. No award here for trying to decipher its meaning. It said:

“Before buying a Wonderbra, make sure your number is ex-directory”.

Not only it doesn’t work for creative reasons, it goes against the empowering message the original tries to send. This is a missed opportunity on a grand scale. As a French copywriter, I can only see laziness, lack of respect and knowledge of the brand.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The account went to EuroRSCG Paris who produced another puzzling ad in English branded Turkey of the Week in Campaign magazine in October 1998. With a similar visual, it reads:

“Christmas decorations are early this year”.

Claire Cozens wrote: “You’d have thought Wonderbra would have been the ad brief from heaven. But as this campaign proves, even a brand with a heritage as strong as this one doesn’t write its own ads. The new lines read like they’ve been translated verbatim from a foreign language. Now why would that be?”

These campaigns are too old to represent what’s going on in transcreation these days? I’m afraid not.

Last year I created a test campaign of radio scripts in French for a global American client with an agency in London. Neither the client nor the staff at the agency spoke French. I backtranslated everything, the client approved every one of them and the tests proved successful.

However, when it came to write the real thing, there had been a change of account director and a junior French copywriter was hired instead to write the scripts (cheaper?).

The results were dramatic. I had to endure months of spots delivered by a wooden VO on the French national radio France Inter. I recognized none of what had been previously agreed with the client of carefully crafted scripts. It was baffling. Worse, it was broadcast along competitors’ spots which were simply ten times better.

All this points to one thing: it’s not because a French copywriter knows a bit of English that he/she is able to tackle global campaigns and successfully transcreate a campaign taking into account the brief, the brand’s tone of voice and the context of the market.

The solution is simple: ask a professional. At Transcreators United, we deliver transcreations first approved by myself. As a senior French copywriter, whatever the language you’re after, I make sure I work on the copy myself before briefing a foreign copywriting with the same level of experience. Not a translator who’s never worked in advertising or a junior copywriter who is not trained as a transcreator.

You don’t have to go as far as China to see badly transcreated ads. With Brexit, things may get even worse. As the government’s own ads keep on telling us, prepare for it. You’ll want to avoid the proverbial faux-pas or the inappropriate transcreation that sends your client’s reputation down the toilette.

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