George Gribbin, a previous chairman of Young & Rubicam, said that a copywriter “should have an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them." Understanding people have a great deal to do with firstly understanding their culture and language. As one of the most multilingual countries around the globe, South Africa’s various languages and culture are what sets
us apart. We should be proud of the fact that we are truly one of the most culturally rich and diverse nations in the world, and this diversity is something that must always be celebrated and appreciated.
However, when it comes to marketing, this unique and diverse rainbow of cultures can be a challenge for content creators, especially when they want to appeal to the masses. With so many diverse mind-sets, motivations, and cultural nuances, effective communication needs to be approached strategically. If not, copy will seem forced or fake. Fortunately, there are some strategic tactics copywriters can implement to overcome these cultural copy barriers:
Who are you writing for?
Before you can overcome cultural and language barriers, it’s extremely important to have a clear idea of who you are writing for. Without knowing where to start, you can’t begin to break through the barriers to create appealing, culturally-relevant copy. A simple yet effective tactic is to take some time to plan before you put pen to paper; sit with your client, go through the brief to assess who
they are trying to reach, conduct research and make sure you really understand the target audience and the write-up’s objectives.
Don’t think in clichés.
Copywriting for different cultures isn’t simple. You will very likely need to do a lot of research before gaining any valuable insight into the target audience. It will also be crucial for you to pay attention to the dominant cultures of the audience you are writing for. Take note of the established language, religions, customs and values of the audience – this will ensure you steer clear of clichéd understandings and LSM-thinking. Then, if it’s necessary, you might need to delve deeper into the various subcultures that you find within the culture. By doing this, you can tailor your copy even further. Look at the different groups that you find within the culture and how they differentiate themselves from the bigger cultural group. Language can be a big differentiator in these cases. Linguistic elements like slang words and sayings are indicators of culture and what makes the speakers unique.
Copywriters and most marketers often overlook subcultures, making this a great opportunity for content creators to stand out from the copy crowd. Apart from making it relevant to your audience, it will also breathe life into your words.
Language evolves, copy should too
Words like lit or yasss used by the younger generation might not seem like it belongs in any respectable copywriter’s dictionary, but learning about language evolution within a culture or age group might give you the upper hand. While I understand that copywriters usually strive for perfect grammar, sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. The best copy captures the essence of the
people they are writing for, without it seeming forced. But beware: Think before you try to make your copy cool. Only incorporate slang or colloquial language into your writing if it fits the brand. If the brand is more formal, don’t compromise the brand’s integrity just to try and appeal to a certain audience.
Don’t go with Google Translate.
When it comes to translations, use a professional translator. The risk of using something like Google
Translate is simply not worth the few rands you might save. Mistakes and miscommunication can easily slip into the copy if it’s not translated properly. Some big brands have burnt their fingers with poor translations, even insulting the audience or misrepresenting the product completely. In a country like South Africa with 11 official languages, it is crucial that when things get translated, it is
done correctly. Although it might seem like extra work or unnecessary costs, sometimes it’s even worth translating the translation back into the original language. This is a sure-fire way to spot those mistakes that could cost a brand a lot of embarrassment.
Back to basics
Copywriting for different cultures and languages boils down to the basic principles of copywriting: Understand your audience. Make sure you understand why you are writing the copy in the first place and for who, and then write your way towards this goal. With thorough research and understanding, you will be able to write copy fit for both the masses and the niches – even for a diverse and culturally-rich country like South Africa.