Eight things you need to know about advertising to bilinguals


Whether you’re targeting a demographic with incredible buying power, or trying to give a certain cachet to your brand, bilingual advertising can be effective – and tricky.  Here are a few things to know:

  1. There are different approaches. When dealing with a bilingual market, you could choose to create an ad campaign for both languages (or create one and use ads that already exist in the other language). Or maybe you want to combine the two, with code switching. This is commonly how bilingual people actually talk, mixing one language with another, and it can be compelling when used the right way in ads.

Do some research into the subject, and you’ll regularly see references to a recent commercial for the Wendy’s fast food chain.  In it, a teenage couple is thrilled about the new Wendy’s pretzel bacon cheeseburger. They go back and forth with descriptive words and superlatives, the Hispanic girl’s in Spanish, the non-Hispanic boy’s in English…until the very end, when he bursts out, “Pretzelicioso.”  It’s unexpected for the audience, and also, as market researcher Dr. Neleen S. Leslie explains, a wonderful combined word: “pretzel” and delicioso (“delicious”).

  1. Code switching is not the same as combined words. Advertising experts praised the Wendy’s commercial for its bilingual appeal and code switching, but Leslie reminds us that actually, what’s making us react is Spanglish. Whatever their two languages, bilinguals also do this, combining languages not just in a single conversation, but even in a single word. It doesn’t have to be so clearly mixed, either.  Mattel’s “Toy Feliz” campaign of a few years ago was praised by a number of language fans (including us).  One of the coolest things about this campaign directed to bilinguals was its name: “Toy Feliz”.  It’s code switching on the surface, with “toy” in English, and feliz (“happy”) in Spanish.  But “toy” also sounds like a little kid saying estoy (“I am”).

  2. Advertising in two languages can be harder than you think. When you’re advertising in one language, you already have to make sure your words are perfectly chosen, error-free, and feel genuine. Now imagine having to do that with two languages. It can often go awry, even if the problem version isn’t technically incorrect. Translator Dorota Pawlak shares this example of a Polish and English advertorial whose English is so stilted that it turns native speakers off.

  3. There may be a preferred language order. A recent study suggests that when a bilingual ad’s slogan involves the minority language (language not native to the country/community) switching to the majority language (most common language), it’s more persuasive than if a majority-language switches to the minority language. There was an exception, though: If the minority language has overall positive feelings attached to it, the results will be the opposite.  This also shows that it’s important to work with an advertising and translating team who have a knowledge of the culture in your market, not just the languages.

  4. Don’t rely on one language for a bilingual market. According to research, the US Hispanic population tends to do online searching in a mix of English and Spanish. Simply translating English ads into Spanish doesn’t really speak to this market, and won’t help them get the right search results, as much as making equally compelling ad campaigns in both languages would.

  5. In the US, bilingual English-Spanish advertising is becoming increasingly important. Hispanics represent more than $1 trillion of buying power. They’re currently the leaders in purchasing and using mobile devices. They’re the group that watches the most videos on line.  More and more companies are becoming aware of this, and trying to tap into this huge source of advertising possibilities.

  6. Bilingual advertising is more common than you think. In multilingual India, for example, code switching ads have been around for decades. But code switching in advertising also happens even in predominantly monolingual markets. One of the main reasons for this is to set a certain tone.  For example, in many European countries, English words and phrases are used in ads that want to evoke America or the UK and their mentality and lifestyle.  It works the other way, too; for example, in the US and UK, we tend to use French words in beauty ads, to give an impression of refinement and luxury.

  7. Study your market to understand a language’s associations. In monolingual marketplaces, foreign words or phrases can subtly suggest something about a company or product’s reputation. For example, Volkswagen’s slogan “Das Auto” associates it with its country of origin, Germany, which has a reputation for building well-running, high quality cars.  Dior’s slogan “J’adore Dior” was kept in French to suggest luxury and sophistication.  Master these associations, or hire a transcreator who already knows and understand them, and you might just find a new day to catch potential clients’ ears and eyes. And, later, their wallets….

by Alysa Salzberg

#aiatranslations #bilingualadvertising #translations

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