With this “holiday” approaching, we decided to take a look at what Halloween means to people and cultures around the world. For the United States, it’s a time to dress up in a spooky or pop culture-related costume; drink pumpkin-flavored beer; and eat way too much candy. Kids go door-to-door, begging for candy with the classic threat, “Trick or Treat!” For Americans, it all feels very common. Doesn’t everyone have this October 31st ritual?
Some countries do, yes. In places like Ireland or Canada, you’ll likely be invited to a costume party or hand out candy to groups of kids. For these countries, the Halloween traditions we see on American TV are widely followed. In countries like Sweden, these traditions only came into play over the last decade or so — perhaps due to the rise and influence of social media.
While America’s version of Halloween has started to permeate other cultures, its cultural significance doesn’t always translate exactly, or resonate in the same way. And why would it? Other countries have their own things to celebrate. In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, for example, there’s Día de los Muertos — a celebration of the dead returning to their homes. From October 31st to November 2nd, people build altars and provide offerings for family members who have passed on. Tricking and treating are replaced with recognizing and honoring.
Even the phrase, “Trick or Treat,” isn’t consistent in different languages. In Spanish, “Trick or Treat” translates to “Truco o Trato.” This isn’t a direct translation; “truco” means trick, while “trato” means “treatment.” Spanish speakers have adapted and adopted this phrase, despite the fact that it has very little meaning to their culture. If you were to present this saying to a Spanish speaker who’d never heard of Halloween, they’d likely have no idea what you meant.
In France, where Halloween isn’t usually celebrated (with the exception of Franco-American families), the French have taken to using either “Trick or treat,” or “Des bonbons ou un sort.” People may not actively use either of these expressions; they’re mostly placeholders reserved for explaining the concept of American Halloween in the French language.
When translating, it’s important to understand which cultural references will resonate with an audience, and which will not. If you’re globalizing a product or service in France, for example, you can’t expect Halloween-related messaging to appeal to your audience. An “exciting” Halloween campaign might go right into the trash bin. Not understanding this cultural difference is the first mistake companies make when it comes to International Brand Management. Luckily, Chillistore is here to help.
Our experts know which key words, emotional appeals, and images resonate with certain audiences, and which do not. Our goal is to help you implement these, so you won’t “Trick or Treat” your audience into ignoring your services. An audience that sees themselves reflected in a brand is an audience that buys.Learn more about international brand management.