If a picture paints a thousand words…

Are you fluent in Emoji, the world’s fastest growing digital language?

Another week, another tube strike which was thankfully called off. From #firstworldproblems to #solvemyproblemsin4words, we can already predict today’s trending topics on Twitter.

During the last tube strike, I received a whatsapp message from a friend who was working from home: it was a URL link to a visual riddle that had gone viral on twitter.

London Underground had challenged its users to translate the name of 13 tube stations from strings of emoji symbols. The idea was a misjudgement that added to the city-wide sense of frustration that day, but it also underlined just how central these symbols have become to our everyday communication.


Emoji use has soared across messenger and social media platforms, especially after Apple and Google officially embraced emoji keyboards on their devices in 2011 and 2013.

How did it all start?

The first time I found myself interacting with those smiley faces was as a teenaged user of MSN messenger.  Everyone would overload their status message with emoticons and use a combination of text and symbols to convey their 100 different personalities. If that wasn’t “cool enough”, over the years, MSN added more features such as the annoying “nudge” which would shake a friend’s chat window, and the option to send giant animated emoticons – the outcome: your computer screen would be bombarded with wave after wave of emojis.

Like many mobile innovations, it originated in Japan. In 1999 Shigetaka Kurita developed emoji as visual cues for emoticons and ideas in mobile phone messages; it was a feature to differentiate a new product from the rest of the market. The word is derived by combining the Japanese word for picture “e” and character “moji”. Interestingly, many others still believe that emojis have their roots in the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt – the idea of a visual language to communicate. Either way, the 21st century has seen the irresistible rise of an emoji culture.

Let’s use Instagram as an example; almost 40 percent of all text posted to the photo-sharing app contains at least one emoji in the photo caption. If that wasn’t enough, Instagram now allows searchable emoji in hashtags too!

As for twitter, a real-time update on which emojis are being used across twitter is now available through an emoji tracker!


Until recently, relationships were initiated by traditional concepts of communication; ie writing letters or emails. In a digital age, these tribal rituals seem not only dated but old fashioned. A shift in habits began at the tail end of the last century with the proliferation of the smart phone. Dating app tinder is, in my view, a perfect example whereby some matches have been made solely through the art of emojis – true story.

Strings of emojis are now being used to communicate more nuanced messages and in are replacing the written word altogether. Are the days of traditional communication now gone? The symbols have become a language of their own, a way to transcend the limits of one’s native tongue and communicate with others in all different parts of the world.

The question remains: can we successfully reach out to new friends and colleagues in a world where communication is mediated by Emoji?

According to some forward-thinking brands which have released Emoji-based campaigns – yes!


PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), has decided to take a risky approach by telling a story using emojis only to highlight animal cruelty.

The graphics offer a blunt look at how consumer goods rely on the fur of rabbits, cows and monkeys, which are killed with guns, needles and hammers.


The WWF launched a very powerful #EndangeredEmoji Twitter campaign to help save animals from extinction. The charity created 17 emojis of endangered animals and are asking their audience to participate by donating 10p every time they retweet one.


Two organisations choosing to engage a target audience not with emotive words but with evocative symbols.


On my way to work this morning, I came across this poster and had to take a photo on my mobile. It’s part of McDonald’s “good times” campaign which uses emojis to illustrate how a bad day can turn into a good one by visiting your local McDonald’s.


Last week, I picked up a book at the airport entitled “The visual communications book:  using words, drawing and whiteboards to sell big ideas” by Mark Edwards. The blurb read the following “By creatively combining the basic building blocks of words, images and shapes, you can make even abstract, complex concepts appear concrete, simple and real“. I couldn’t agree with you more, Mark.

If a picture really does paint a thousand words then the emoji isn’t just visually interesting, it’s really very eloquent.

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You are beautiful, no matter what they say

Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

Everywhere we look, women are bombarded with stereotyped images of unattainable physical perfection. The beauty industry has become a commercial juggernaut with huge influence over individuals and societies. Globalisation is changing traditional notions of beauty. Many societies are turning their backs on what has been valued for generations in favour of an  “international” standard of beauty. This has meant that often, standardized campaigns have been created in the US or UK and run in foreign countries with only a few simple modifications such as a translated headline.

Whilst beauty can be defined as “something which is aesthetically pleasing”, an individual’s perception of beauty is influenced not only by the media, but also by the society which he or she lives in. Society’s perception of beauty varies from culture to culture. Therefore it is important for global brands to reflect the social norms and cultural values of a given society when taking their product abroad. In 2010, Procter and Gamble removed Max Factor cosmetics from the US Market as the make-up range failed to appeal to consumers in America.


As a way of challenging today’s stereotypical view of beauty, in 2004, Unilever’s Dove brand “campaign for real beauty” featured photos of everyday women. Dove’s decision to rebel against the norm in beauty advertising was based on findings of extensive research carried out by the brand. It was found that only 2% of women considered themselves beautiful. As a result, Dove’s advertising campaign promoted the images of a variety of women with diverse body shapes, sizes, races and ages. Adding to the challenge, the campaign was launched in 30 countries and received enormous attention worldwide.


What made the Dove campaign so successful?

If you visit Dove’s website, you will notice that it has been localised for specific markets. Not only has the content been translated, Dove has been posting up real, relevant and culturally based content for each market. The Dove website features many articles about self-esteem and issues affecting the beauty industry in the target market.


Unlike a lot of well-known cosmetic brands, Dove has tailored the content appropriately to each target market. It went beyond turning the site into a multilingual portal and it took more than just a change of “tone”. It spoke to women across borders, ethnicities and body shapes and told them a refreshing and valuable truth. You are beautiful.  It didn’t just promote a product. It delivered a positive, resonant social message. That’s the power of transcreation.







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Transcreating love – Is love universal?

love11Love… a four letter word which, according to Google  or Bing, seems so simple and straightforward  to translate. Yet, this is not the case as the term “love” has multiple different meanings. In fact, it applies to a wide range of positive emotions and not just conventional romantic love.

Let’s face it, marketing campaigns that engage us emotionally are more effective and powerful than those that don’t. But emotional responses vary, from person to person and from country to country.  Creating emotive campaigns that reach across borders and cultures isn’t easy.

You have to ask yourself, is there common emotional ground  across all different cultures?

Johnson and Johnson’s “Language of love” campaign argues that there is. According to them, “it’s that one universal language that mothers and babies speak; all across this vast world of ours”. Disneyland’s 1960s campaign famously promoted the California park as “the happiest place on Earth”, and footage of the Shah and Empress of Iran riding the Matterhorn rollercoaster in 1962 added to the perception that some positive emotions are shared across the globe.language of love

However numerous studies have found that emotions are shaped by culture, therefore it is common for people from different countries to display different emotions in the same situation.

Pepsi has demonstrated this by adapting its ads; making them relevant to each target market. Let’s compare the Pepsi ads in China and in America.

As the Chinese ad is almost 3 minutes long, I don’t expect everyone to watch it 🙂

This touching ad tells the story of an old man waiting for his son and daughters to visit him in the Chinese New Year – an event that puts special emphasis on family gatherings.

Chinese  brands have often turned to storytelling to engage with consumers on a deeper level. Powerful stories win the hearts of Chinese consumers and Pepsi successfully achieved this by forming  emotional connections with its Chinese consumers.

Now let’s have a look at the humorous Pepsi ad which was broadcast that same year for the American audience.

The promo sees the band arguing with American football player Drew Brees over a can of Pepsi. Whilst the messages of American ads are direct and stress on individual achievements,

[One Direction]

Platinum Album

[Drew Brees]

Dudes, I won the Super Bowl

[One Direction]

On the cover?

[Drew Brees]


Chinese ads put the emphasis on relationships.

While both ads associated Pepsi with positive emotions and connotations, they did so in very different ways–the Chinese ads through a long complex narrative full of emotive human relationships and the American ads through a short and snappy ad which focused on power, ability and the appeal of a glamorous lifestyle.

What about the word “Love” in slogans?

Since we have very few words to define love, people assign a certain level to what they’re feeling that may not exactly be accurate.

Whereas  English has multiple meanings for “love”, Spanish is a lot more specific.

(gustar, amar, querer, tener carino, encantar…).

The McDonalds tagline “I’m loving it” was translated in Spanish as “Me encanta” as this was the best option for the target market, conveying friendliness and informality.

Fast food chain Quiznos also have the word love present in their slogan “love what you eat”. In French they opted for a more creative approach and made this slogan rhyme. The memorable tagline “Le Goût par-dessus tout”, meaning “taste above everything else” gave the campaign a vibrancy that a literal French translation could never have matched.

Messages need to be changed to suit their audience. What provokes a specific emotional reaction in one culture is by no means guaranteed to draw the same reaction in another.  Creativity must be involved in a multilingual campaign in order to maintain cultural relevance. Creativity and transcreativity.

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Pepsi, “Pecsi” or “Pesi”? YOU decide ! From mispronunciation to transcreation

When I moved to Wales at the age of ten, I could not speak a word of English. Starting school in year 6, I quickly had to learn and catch up with my school mates. Although bilingual, I still have my French accent. Having a “foreign” accent in one or more languages is, in fact, the norm for bilinguals. There is no relationship between one’s command of a language and whether one has an accent in it. Having an accent has never been problematic and it is something that I accept and embrace as part of my identity.

But what happens if having an accent leads to serious mispronunciations?

It appears that consumers in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina and Spain have difficulties with the pronunciation of Pepsi. Indeed, the “ps” sound in the second syllable is very difficult to pronounce for Spanish speakers.

This is demonstrated to us in this humorous Spanish campaign staring Chelsea player, Fernando Torres who quickly gets frustrated with a British director as he keeps trying to correct his pronunciation of the word “Pepsi”.

After filming repeated takes, Torres rips the letter “P” from a Pepsi sign and tells the director that where he comes from in Spain, it’s called “Pesi.”

Consequently, “Pesi” was born…..


After recognising that in Spain “Pepsi” is phonetically difficult to pronounce, Pepsi’s agency, BBDO, proposed to rename the brand within its campaign.

However the re-branding didn’t just happen in Spain…

It appears that 25% of the Spanish speaking population in Argentina are asking for a “pesci” instead of a Pepsi.
The result: Pepsi adjusted its name to the local pronunciation in Argentina – Pesci.

The tag line for this campaign “it doesn’t matter how you say it, you are saving either way” came out in 2009 when the Spanish economy was hit by  recession. The overall message was that you can either save money by drinking Pepsi, or save by drinking Pecsi (regardless of how you pronounce it).

Rather than trying to change the Spanish speaking consumer and educating him or her towards the official pronunciation of the brand, Pepsi recognises the local challenges and is proud to create the first “democratic pronunciation of a brand” – in other words, transcreation.
By understanding and taking into account  cultural nuances, Pepsi is able to build a closer, more interactive relationship with its consumers. It presents the image of a corporate giant prepared to listen, to integrate with the cultures of its international markets and care about the way in which its consumers connect with the brand.

One might say the language of success has many different accents, and in this case it carries one very eloquent message.  Respect, listen and learn. Create and transcreate.


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Start small, dream big and speak to the world

global_LargePersonally, I find bank advertising irritating. Most of them fail to be engaging and just throw numbers at you. If it’s not Barclays trying to sell their personalised debit cards, it’s Santander offering you the best loans or mortgage deals. As these banks compete with each other, none of them really stand out for me; except one…

As I was watching TV last week, the advert for HSBC’s 2013 iconic campaign grabbed my attention.  It tells the story of a smart little American girl who sets up a lemonade stand which accepts a variety of different currencies. If that weren’t enough, the girl impresses her customers with her language skills by selling lemonade to a Brazilian woman in Portuguese.  In the second version of the advert, the lemonade trader does exactly the same by speaking in Cantonese to a woman from Hong Kong.

So what is the message behind this ad?
The tag line for this campaign, “In the future, even the smallest business will be multinational”, suggests that international growth is imperative for businesses of any size and that no  matter what your  language or currency, markets are opening up to everyone.

Why does HSBC put so much focus on international business?
Because of increasing globalisation and the new trading opportunities it brings, an increasing number of companies are driven to consider exporting.
HSBC shows that it can support these companies and demonstrates it with a simple,  humorous story we can all relate to.

Having said that, with such global diversity, businesses MUST take localisation into consideration. Indeed, the key to international business success goes beyond translation. By taking into account other cultures and the country in which the localised product will be used, the little girl’s business becomes successful and grows internationally. We can see this for ourselves in the follow up ad which aired this week:

Here, our entrepreneurial young heroine is visiting India to meet an equally ambitious lemon trader and later communicates with a French distributor.

HSBC’s worldwide campaign promoting the company as “the world’s local bank” is a success story. This advert provides a good example of how a small business has managed to use localisation effectively and in doing so, has achieved great success. The little American girl’s business has grown from selling lemonade on her front lawn to having a business partner in India and a distributor in France. She did this by building strong relationships not only with her customers but also with an international business partner.  She also did her research and gained a basic understanding of business etiquette by visiting her target market and welcoming her partner in an appropriate way (holding her palms together, as in praying, and saying “Namaste” with a slight bow – a customary greeting when individuals meet in India). With more than 125 million English speakers on the sub-continent, our young entrepreneur has been lavishly rewarded for her cultural awareness and business sense.

Despite President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative plan and repeated initiatives from the British government, a massive number of small businesses in the United States and the UK struggle to overcome cultural and language barriers. There is no doubt that cultural nuances present challenges to the exporter but by doing your research and genuinely engaging with the target market, you can give your business every opportunity to grow internationally.

HSBC encourages us to follow a young girl as she becomes a multinational business leader and a role model who has probably encouraged viewers of her own age to learn another language and embrace another culture. I chose to write about this advert in particular not only because it shows passion, personality, optimism and warmth, but also because this little girl reminds me of my 11 year old sister who speaks French, English and German fluently….so just like the dad, I, too, am very proud of my little sister as I am sure that with her language skills, she will have a bright future.

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Mango’s fashion faux pas

Whilst studying for my Translation Masters in London, I had a part time job working for the Spanish fashion retailer – Blanco – Spain’s answer to Topshop.

Over the years, as stores were forced to close down, Spanish clothing companies were beginning to colonize the world.

Despite having to cope with Zara as its main rival, together with Spain’s recent economic crisis, Mango is still prosperous, cementing its stature across the world. This Spanish multinational clothing company, based in Barcelona, has over 850 stores dotted across 81 countries. The Mango founders, Isak and Nahman Andic are among the wealthiest in Spain.

Generating 70% of its profits outside Spain (primarily in China and France), it’s no surprise that Mango’s focus is on international expansion.

Let’s take the French Market as an example. As I mentioned in my recent blog “The Medium and the Message”, when businesses want to make their content accessible to international audiences, they will need localisation and professional translation from a qualified native speaker.

This was obviously not taken into consideration when Mango’s French site was selling jewellery branded “slave style.”

A gold chain which was described as “Style esclave” on Mango’s French website, triggered consumer backlash over the weekend.

Mango issued an apology following the incident and the necklace in question was removed immediately.

Mango blamed the mishap as a translation error. The word “esclava” – which means “bracelet” or “bangle” in Spanish – was translated as “esclave” on the French site, which translates to “slave” in French.

The result: a tornado of vexed and offended consumers.

A basic error like this could have easily been prevented. Whilst some people accept this resulted from a non professional translator or a badly paid job, others are not convinced. In their eyes, this was owing to ignorance and racism.mango2

Racism perhaps, but although this was a scandal for the French public, it appears that “slave style” jewellery is a term that already exists in Italian -“bracciale alla schiava” (which is a cuff bangle but translates literally as a slave bracelet). With Italian and French having common ground as Romance languages, Mango’s French translator might have assumed that it would be acceptable to follow the same path in French.

What do YOU think?

Let’s hope that this will all have been swiftly forgotten in time for Paris fashion week…

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Transcreation – a communication upgrade that’s more than just cosmetic

An increasing number of brands are reaching out to international audiences in order to establish an online presence in vibrant emerging markets. These brands depend heavily on global marketing and they have to be able to engage in an effective way, earning visibility and credibility in each market.

However, localising content for global audiences is more than just a translation job. This is where transcreation comes in.  It is the creative adaptation of marketing, sales and advertising copy in another language.

It involves creating a target text which preserves the same meaning, creates an equivalent appeal in different languages and evokes the same response as the source text.  After all, a good marketing campaign is all about engaging the consumer on an emotional level.

Let’s take LUSH cosmetics as an example of transcreation.


The home page has 47 flags, reaching across continents and cultures.  Each flag leads to a corresponding website, tailored to the cultural expectations of the customer.

Let’s start with the visuals and the layout. Both have been altered to match the particular culture of the country. If we compare the German site with the Japanese one, we can already see a difference.


Whilst the German site is clear and orderly, with a list of products to the side and images in the centre, the Japanese site reflects the busy, cluttered nature of advertising in Japan. Japanese sites will typically cram as much information onto a page as possible. Site visitors can expect a colourful assault on their senses from a multitude of flashing rectangular blocks.

As Easter is approaching, images of Easter bunnies and eggs are flashing at you on the French and English LUSH sites. Being a Muslim country, the Turkish site has no such features as it wouldn’t be culturally appropriate.

LUSH is an example of a well localised site which takes into account the local norms so it looks and feels familiar and user-friendly to the target audience.

As I mentioned earlier, a good marketing campaign is all about emotion. The job of the transcreator is to trigger the desired emotions in any target language. I can state with confidence that LUSH cosmetics achieves that goal, because I’m a regular customer who has responded positively to their advertising in several languages. One example of the brand’s cross-cultural success is the way quirky product names have been translated between languages.

Let’s take the famous mint face mask as an example. The name “Magnaminty” is a combination of the Latin word “Magnus” meaning “Great” and the Mint plant.

4 T UMAX     PowerLook III    V1.5 [4]

The French website could easily have left the name in the English. However it used a play on words and translated the product as “La Grande mentheuse” which literally means “The big liar” (female liar). However they deliberately mis-spelled the French translation of “liar” (menteuse) to allow them to retain a reference to mint “menthe”. This required a lot of creativity and imagination. Not only did the French retain the meaning of great and minty, it also recreated the same fun and quirkiness.


Another product which I found interesting is the famous lip balm called “None of your beeswax”. “Rien à cirer” was the French translation which is, just like in English, a colloquial expression which means “not interested”. However, the translator still managed to retain the word “cire” which means wax, an ingredient found in lip balms.

In this example, the transcreator managed to find a suitable French translation. This requires a nuanced understanding not only of the target market but also the technicalities of the French language.

Effective branding enables us to speak to the world, and effective transcreation enables us to do it with a subtlety and distinctiveness which encourages our audience to listen attentively to every word. It’s a process that goes far deeper than mere cosmetics, but like a good LUSH product it can put a smile on the face of consumers in any target market.

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