One doesn’t have to search far on the internet to find an abundance of articles regarding the many mistakes that can and have been made in advertising related to poor translations. For example, when KFC took their slogan of “finger lickin’ good” to China, they inadvertently promoted their product to be as good as “eat your fingers off.” Not exactly the intent anyone from their corporate office intended.
These types of issues are reasonably surface-level. It’s obviously essential that when translations are done, someone with fluency in the target language and culture should examine them to ensure the translated message is equivalent to the original. It’s not without challenges, though, as many concepts familiar to Americans, such as something being so good you lick it off your fingers, will likely not be pleasurable or desirable to those in other cultures.
Yet there is a more significant challenge in translating marketing and advertising messages, which revolves around translating rhetoric in advertising. Rhetoric is the use of language to effectively and persuasively communicate a message. It uses creativity and imagery to influence the reader’s emotion about a subject.
How is rhetoric used in advertising copy?
Just some of the most popular forms of rhetoric used in advertising copy include:
- Alliteration- repetition of the beginning consonant sounds
- Anadiplosis- using the same last word of one clause as the first word of the following clause
- Anaphora- repeating one or more words at the beginning of multiple clauses
- Antithesis- using a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas
- Ellipses- leaving out words to imply a particular meaning based on context
- Epanorthosis- making a claim that calls the claim into doubt
- Hyperbole- using exaggeration
- Irony- using a word to convey a meaning that is opposite to its literal meaning
- Metaphor and similes- making a comparison of two unlike items
- Paradox- making a contradictory statement that contains a measure of truth
- Parallelism- similarity of structure in a series of related words, phrases, or clauses
- Pun- clever use of a word that sounds the same but has multiple meanings
- Rhymes- using words with the same ending sounds
An interesting note about rhetorical devices is that different cultures place various levels of interest in each type, making direct translations of rhetoric from one language to another often ineffective. Instead, a qualified translator who is not only bilingual but has a strong understanding of cultural norms will be able to take the overall flavor and emotion of the original text and translate it in such a way that the reader in the target language walks away with the same feelings and imagery–even if it means using entirely different forms of rhetoric.
Example of Translating Rhetoric from Chinese to English
Take this example from a research paper written by Ying Cui and Yanli Zhao, “Translation of Rhetorical Figures in the Advertising Discourse,” (2014). In their study, Cui and Zhao reviewed copyright initially published in Chinese for a dance performance titled “Full Moon.” The Chinese copy extensively relied upon parallelisms to describe the performance. For example, several parallelisms all used the structure of “adjective phrase + a noun” that, when literally translated to English, read “the big rock that is set on the stage,” “the drizzle that is falling in the wind,” “women in flowery dresses.” This structure has a substantial impact on readers in Chinese culture.
However, when the identical advertisement copy was translated for publishing in English, those conventions were not used because they did not have the same impact on the reader. Instead, alliterations and rhymes were relied upon. English readers found descriptions of the performance such as “bold and breathtaking,” “splash and swirl,” and “reinvention and re-inspiration.”
International companies or simply cross-border arrangements need to have marketing copy accurately translated by qualified professionals. Cui and Zhao sum of their findings as this:
“When translating the rhetorical figures in advertising texts, translators need to consider the target audience’s needs and interests as well as the target linguistic and cultural characteristics. The flexible treatment of rhetorical figures in advertisement translation can be attributed to the fact that, while needs are universal for all human beings regardless of their cultural backgrounds, the emphasis on and ways of satisfying different audiences’ needs vary, and it will be beneficial for translators to do research in this regard in order to figure out the proper ways to appeal to different audiences’ needs.”
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