Mad Men

Homer Simpson parodies Mad Men

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days,” wrote columnist Doug Larson. Men —and women— possess selective memory: we all like to remember the best bits of the past, to time travel back when the present looks and feels unbearable, sad or preposterous. That’s one reason behind movie remakes and TV shows such as Mad Men. The pleasant past feels more glamorous and acceptable because it is less noisy than our present.

Our harried present is a slave to quick turnarounds, yesterday deadlines and high productivity. In our lives, both personal and professional, we rush with an even faster step, a bouncier spring, towards a dazzling goal or destination. Once we arrive there, be it in the form of a quarterly sales number or a high manufacturing output, we seemingly can’t wait to be back on the road, to get our speed fix again. Software companies, cellphone makers and twitterers are racing toward the next build, the next device model and the next 140 characters with bated breath, as the squirrel being chased by a dog. So, up she goes on a tree only to gaze forward to the next tree.

Famed Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is known for having sped from rags to riches in five years. But there was a 3-year span that separated the release of Goblet of Fire and the Order of the Phoenix. On the outside, it is generally assumed that an accomplished writer can churn out books with ease. In a TIME Magazine July 2005 interview with Lev Grossman, Rowling admitted that her writing could stand some editing:

I think Phoenix could have been shorter. I knew that, and I ran out of time and energy toward the end.

Regarding Goblet of Fire, Rowling added: “In every single book, there’s stuff I would go back and rewrite. But I think I really planned the hell out of this one. I took three months and just sat there and went over and over and over the plan, really fine-tuned it, looked at it from every angle. I had learnt, maybe, from past mistakes.”

The so-called new field of transcreation, which is none other than copywriting in a foreign language, involves penning slogans, taglines, brand names and other advertising copy that energizes the potential buyer-reader with the same conviction and desire as the English copy. Whether it is marketing copy, poetry, fantasy novel or health care benefits, writing is writing. Good writing can be motivated but cannot be rushed. Good writing follows the same goal but different morphologies in different languages. The phrase Just Do It doesn’t sound so snappy and hip in other languages. David Droga, chairman of Droga5, recently stated that “…for every iconic line like these, there are a hundred failures. Writing bad copy is easy, which is why the majority of advertising feels disposable.”

The translation industry is awash with technology-based promises of faster, higher productivity, perfect renditions in foreign languages, seamless software localization and priceless product placement in overseas markets. Stand back and listen to the noise before you make a determination. The ongoing crush that purveyors of language services have with their technologies conflate time to market with delivery readiness. As first impressions last for a long time, for good or ill, why rush a translated document to the market where it runs the risk of being seen as amateurish or careless by the consumer?

If you really care for your message to the customer, choose your translation writers carefully. Perhaps what you write is all they will know about you. Do you want them to base their buying choices on poorly written copy in their language? If you still think that writing is easy, here’s an exercise for you: write your life’s accomplishments in 3 minutes. It is not that easy, is it? You have to sit down and think about what words to use. After all, these are your accomplishments, you should feel proud of them. How will you communicate that pride, that swagger? What’s the difference between I did 3 years of accounting at Kohl Industries and In my 3 years at Kohl Industries, I streamlined the accounting department operations, achieved annual savings of $35,000 and modernized record keeping?

The only translators that are worth your time are those who care about your image. They don’t come cheap, but they enjoy writing with a purpose. A penny for your thoughts.


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Filed under Advertising, Marketing, Offering premium-level service, Translation as writing, Writing skills

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