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How to Localize an Ad

It takes more than just translation to engage with your global customers

Advertising is essential for connecting with a global audience. It’s often the first interaction that potential customers have with your brand. Never has that been more true than this summer. Hundreds of events that were postponed in 2020 are scheduled to take place in the coming months, and competition for the attention of your customers is set to be fierce. Whether it’s industry-specific conferences or giant global sporting events like the UEFA Euros or the Summer Games in Tokyo, there are huge opportunities to engage with your audience—and you don’t want to be left standing on the sidelines. 

It’s tempting to take the easy route. You could add subtitles to an existing video or translate your copy, before quickly pushing your ad out into the world. But that probably won’t have the effect you’re hoping for. Adverts need to connect with your customers and give your brand an emotional appeal. To really make an impact in a new market, you’ll need to emulate the emotive, aspirational spirit of this summer’s sporting events in that market’s language and culture. You’ll need to localize your ad—and that requires a lot more than simple cosmetic changes. 

At Lionbridge, we help multinational companies to serve and attract customers across the globe in 350+ languages, and we’ve helped create ads for some of the biggest organizations on the planet. Over the years, we’ve learnt a few things about making the most of your ad localization. Follow our advice and you’ll be able to make a global impact with your content creation not just during the big events, but at any time you choose. Let’s dive in. 

 

What is Ad Localization? 

Ad localization is the process of adapting the copy, design and layout of an advertisement for a new market, language or culture. It aims to recreate the emotional and persuasive impact of the ad for a new audience, which can lead to significant story or conceptual changes. 

While translation faithfully replicates the original text, ad localization can be a highly creative process involving transcreation, which tries to preserve the feeling and message of a piece of content. This applies for ads in all types of media, including video, audio, print and online.  

Every medium has its own set of benefits and challenges when it comes to localization. Combine this with the differing goals of each organization and you’ll quickly realize that no two localization workflows look the same. However, there are some underlying processes that unite all successful localization projects. We’ll look at those processes in the following sections, along with some examples of ads that are worth their weight in gold. 

Person using a film camera

Plan for a Global Audience using Internationalization 

To successfully localize an ad, you’ll have to do far more than just change the language and design of your existing content. You need to consider the cultures and markets you want to target while creating your original ad. This is part of a process called internationalization

Internationalization involves planning and designing an ad that is ready-made for multiple cultures and requires minimal work to adapt for new markets. This affects both high-level processes, such as the concept for the ad, and the details of the ad itself, such as the layout, color scheme or choice of actors. This has a huge impact on your localization efforts. Internationalized ads require far fewer changes because they’ve been designed for the process, saving you time and money. 

This ad from Samsung for the Rio Games is a great example of an ad built for an international audience:

By building the ad around multiple languages, cultures and settings while tapping into the ideal of a ‘world without barriers’, Samsung have built an ad that needs minimal adjustment to work in other cultures. Not every setting or language in the ad is familiar to the viewer, but that’s the entire point. As a result, the primary localization challenge for this ad would be subtitling rather than a reshoot. When the message itself is international, it becomes a whole lot easier to connect with people around the world. 

 

Create Connections for the Local Audience 

While it’s great to have an ad that attracts customers in multiple markets, you’ll also need something familiar in your ad that will help it to resonate with your new audience. That might sound difficult, particularly if this is a market that you’re unfamiliar with. However, there are hundreds of ways to make your ad—and your brand—more appealing in any culture. 

It’s important that your ad conforms to local cultural expectations surrounding advertising. Pay close attention to the standard layout, structure and tone of ads in your target market. What might look like a sleek and streamlined webpage to you might seem sparse in Japan, where people prefer to have all the necessary information presented to them on one page. Similarly, the loud, attention-grabbing design of some TV ads in Japan may not be appropriate for a European audience, who might find it intrusive or overly direct.  

Don’t be afraid to make some minor changes to your branding as well. For example, it’s common for brands to incorporate the color red in China due to its association with happiness and good fortune. By changing your color scheme to more closely align with local color associations, you’ll show an understanding of that culture and more easily endear yourself to customers in that market. Similarly, you could use the big events of the summer to experiment with more casual copy or themes that don’t usually come naturally to your product. With a little bit of effort, you could delight your audience with a fresh take on the branding they know and love. 

Open book of images

Equip Your Localization Team with the Details 

It’s not just the preparation that will affect your ad’s success in a new market. There are also places within the actual localization process where you can make a difference to the quality of your localized ad. The first is in your communication with the localization team. 

Before the project starts, share as much as you can with your localization team. If you have a brief, script or branding documents, give them a copy. Get specific on any requirements, particularly around any differences in branding or localized elements that you need. If your target audience needs dubbing or subtitles, explain why. They may be able to give you an even better solution. 

The more detail your localization team has, the better they’ll be able to create a version of your ad that resonates in your new market. If they understand your vision, they can help you to execute on it. This will all help with the creative process of adapting your ad. Share more than just the transcript and your team will be able to find elegant solutions for your advert in a variety of languages. 

 

The Ad Localization Process 

As you get to work on localizing your ad, there are a few things to remember. One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is to not only nail the content and design, but also prompt the intended reaction from your new audience. This calls for more creativity than some other localization projects.

Try to remember the following points as you localize:

  • Don’t stick too closely to the original copy. Your ad has been finely tuned to move hearts and minds, and it’s probably precious to a lot of people. However, other cultures have very different expectations, and there's no guarantee that your ad will have the cultural context necessary to impact other markets. Don’t be afraid to transcreate. Demand a certain amount of flexibility with the content so that you can really draw out an emotional response from your audience. That little bit of leeway is often what makes the difference between success and failure. 
     
  • Remember that design and layout can help you spark engagement. Even if you’ve worked hard to keep specific cultural references out of the original ad, they’ll probably be in there somewhere. But while word choice and tone always need a review during the localization process, design can help you mitigate this issue to a certain extent. See which visuals and layouts can draw attention away from any concepts that don’t quite translate and make any edits that put your message front and center. 
     
  • As always, watch out for the little details. In particular, make sure that dates, time formats, currencies and figures are correctly used in your ad. Mistakes here are a clear sign to the audience that the ad wasn’t originally designed with them in mind. 
     
  • Employ local experts for quality assurance. Translators are often a great source of feedback for quality issues, but don’t forget to ask someone in the target market to take a look at your ad. Local experts will be able to evaluate whether your content truly moves people—and therefore whether it works or not. 
Person using social media on a phone

Ad Localization by Medium 

If you’ve followed the advice above, you should be well on your way to creating a brilliant ad for the global market. All of the advice up to this point has been general, but there are also some specific concerns for each medium that you should consider. We’ve detailed these below, along with some more sample ads to show that no matter how you present your message, it’s always possible to reach a new audience. 

 

Video

Video might be the hardest medium to correct, so the preparation we’ve outlined above is especially important. Pay close attention to any taboos in your target market when filming, such as showing women’s hair or hands in some Arabic cultures. Similarly, you’ll want to ensure that your ad conforms with your target market’s visual language. Check whether subjects on screen typically move from left to right or from right to left in local media. These subtle visual cues can have a big impact on the way that people experience and understand your ad. 

You should also consider whether you want to dub over your ad in the new market or add subtitles, since preferences for these can differ from country to country. For more in-depth discussion of how to localize your video, check out this article

Here’s another example of a video ad that has been localized for use in almost any market. Again, this ad aims for a globally recognized, simple idea that transcends language, setting and cultures. By latching onto the idea of the family meal, it provides a great example of what to consider when writing and shooting your video:

Digital Advertising

The limited space involved in online paid advertising presents a unique challenge for localization experts. Here, the design and copy have to be perfectly in tune with your message—and with only a few words to do so, that’s often easier said than done. Take extra time to ensure that the copy is right, as there’s no room for error.  

Localizing your digital ads also provides some unique benefits. Events like the Summer Games provide you with the chance to expand beyond your usual messaging and show that you stand side by side with your customers as fans. Don’t forget to back up all your hard work with international SEO efforts

The banner below is a great example of how to deal with the impact of different languages on your ad through localization. The word 'privacy’ is almost 50% longer in German than it is in English. Word length issues like this can have an outsized effect on the ad’s design, UX and feel. To minimize the expansion of the copy, this ad uses short, punchy slogans that both stick in the reader’s mind and draw their eye to the product, all while staying true to the brand: 

Advert of person holding phone with German text

Social

Social ads give you a chance to get up close and personal with your audience. Consider this localized ad focusing on the relationship between athletes and their mothers. Their message is so simple and personal that it can be translated into almost every language and invoke an emotional response:

localized Instagram advertisement related to Olympics with man and woman holding hands above their heads celebrating

Similar to paid ads, social media campaigns also give you the opportunity to segment your audience and deliver highly personalized messages. Plan to use paid social campaigns and built-in tools to target certain sections of the market with a well-localized ad and you’ll see engagement rates climb in response. 

 

Consider Working with a Localization Partner 

Localization is the foundation of your success in new markets, but it’s also more than that. As localization gets more creative and marketing becomes more global, they have become two sides of the same coin. To make the most of your creative and build a brand that has truly global reach, you need both marketing and localization. But localization isn’t just a fundamental component of your marketing program—it’s an opportunity. If you can get it right, you’ll increase your content ROI, decrease your time to market and build a brand that can attract new customers anytime, anywhere. 

As one of the world’s largest localization providers, Lionbridge can help you adapt any advert for the market of your choice. From audio and video to print and digital, we’ve been the trusted partner of the world’s biggest companies for over two decades. Get in touch today to discuss how localization can help you improve your brand’s global standing and engage more closely with your customers. 

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