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4 Tips for Blending Language and Cultural Understanding into Powerful Global Campaigns

It’s hard enough to be inclusive in one language – and with each additional language you add to your communications strategy, the challenge becomes exponentially more difficult. But as mentioned in our previous post with Argos CEO Véronique Özkaya:

“Our business is about going global and being global, connecting people – and that puts us in the best position to promote and become the leaders in diversity.”

So, if we accept that inclusion is part and parcel of the localization challenge, we owe it to ourselves to discover the best methods of bringing that message out in every in every piece of customer content we review  – and in every instance. After all, our clients count on us to help them identify with every group they are trying to connect with.

Let’s look at some principles of inclusive localization – plus some specific challenges and examples – that might save you from a few pitfalls.

1. Focus on the Unifying Identity Whenever Possible

While marketing often needs to segment a given population to facilitate the targeting of a message, that’s a very different process from using exclusionary language that makes people feel excluded from a group. When forming effective communication, plan for any purpose. Focusing on the most unifying identities and the topics that unite a group sends a subtle – yet powerful – signal that all are welcome.

Skip the Exclusionary Phrase, Win at the Inclusionary Messaging Game.

Many of the common colloquialisms used in English are falling out of favor – and it stands to reason that these phrases, when translated, will also have a negative connotation. So, the best course is to skip them altogether and make a more inclusionary statement:

“Don’t be a slave driver” vs. “set reasonable work expectations.”

“I’m OCD about my desk” vs. “I like to keep my desk organized.”

Think Twice about Making Racial or Ethnic Comparisons and Generalizations.

Phrases that single out an ethnic group or make a stereotype have no useful place in business communications. But that doesn’t mean they won’t pop up at times. Broad generalizations like “Asians are better at math than Latinos” or “all whites are racist” should be flagged immediately.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

When using visuals, try to include photos that make an open invitation by showing a mix of genders and ethnicities. This way, everyone can, quite literally, see themselves in the picture and feel a part of the group.

2. Be Aware of Cultural Norms and Double Meanings – and the Pitfalls that Can Happen When You Aren’t

Cultural sensitivity is more than simply being polite. Researching what references and customs could be misunderstood in your marketing communications is vital to a successful product launch. And there are many examples of companies who missed this step to serve as a cautionary tale for cultural sensitivity.

Gerber Baby Food’s Ingredient Problem – When Nestlé introduced Gerber® baby food in Africa, they assumed their iconic baby logo would convey the same message of wholesome goodness to Africans as it had in other markets. The trouble was that African companies tended to show an image of the main ingredient on the can since many customers could not read.

When Vicks® Cough Drops Left German Customers Gasping – The Marketing team was unaware that the German pronunciation for “v” is “f” – which left the name “Vicks” sounding like the crude equivalent to “sexual penetration.”

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, but Sometimes Mighty Embarrassing Too – When Parker Pens introduced their “jotter” pen model to South America, they failed to do enough research and only realized after launch that “jotter” was slang for “jockstrap”.

These cringe-worthy examples prove a point: thorough research is at the heart of every successful transcreation campaign. If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch with Chillistore. We can help you adapt your brand promise into a localized message that maintains the intent while resonating with the market.

3. Mastering Gender Usage Rules: And Unifying Them, When Possible, to Create a Greater “We”

A whopping 55% of the 130 most-commonly spoken languages use gendered grammar that assigns gendered pronouns and endings to the words themselves. For example, l’acqua (“water,” Italian feminine) vs. il libro (“book,” Italian masculine). This creates some interesting challenges as you cross languages and cultures, as each appreciates having their norms respected.

Using Gender-neutral Language When Appropriate

Gender-neutral language, sometimes referred to as gender-inclusive language, neutralizes any references to social gender or sex. In English, this typically includes nouns, roles, and professions. For example, terms like firefighter, police officer, and flight attendant are neutral alternatives to their respective gender-specific counterparts; fireman, policeman, and stewardess.

Adapting Translations to Gendered Languages

In a gendered language, your messaging is expected to respect their tradition when approaching specific communications. Your translation team can target areas for inclusive translation: pronouns, articles, noun declensions, email templates, and references to the user to avoid any chance of miscommunication. This may require some creativity from the team of translators when it comes to items like UI strings, so it pays to have a knowledgeable team on hand.

4. Fast-changing Situations Call for Expert Advice

Language, like culture, constantly changes and evolves as speakers face new communication challenges. This means it’s a massive benefit for any company entering a market to have a local expert look at the source copy and offer inclusive localization service to steer you clear of any pitfalls.

As an example, France’s education ministry doesn’t permit the use of gender-neutral language in schools – despite areas of the public introducing new articles in nouns to include both genders. This fluid dynamic will most certainly affect your translation strategy for France – and, if you’ll permit us a shameless plug, our team of LQA professionals has extensive experience managing tricky situations just like this.

Moreover, “Blacklist/Whitelist” references in English have often been changed to “Allow/Deny List” in American English due to sensitivity around slavery and subsequent racial tensions. The Italian translation back to “lista nera” does not come with a racist connotation and may be clearer to the end reader. But preferences and cultural sensitivities can change quickly, so it pays to have an expert on your side.

The “Rules” for Inclusivity Never Stop Changing – Which is Why We Never Stop Adapting

It’s important to note that no fixed rules exist for using inclusive language or adapting communications for greater diversity. But that’s part of the fun for us at Chillistore as we step up to the challenge of ensuring inclusive content while adhering to your brand’s tone and style guide. Our team of localization pros is guided by the core principles of opening up communication. We respect the humans around us, seek to respect and befriend each person we encounter, and celebrate our differences as part of what makes this world so magical. If that sounds like a communications philosophy you could use to grow your business, we’d be thrilled to talk to you about it!

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