In the first part of this blog entry, Advertising in Europe, Part One, we saw that English is understandably prominent in signage promoting tourist activities. We also saw that it is used in music advertising. So, continuing on our bike tour of Berlin, let’s see where else English is used as a “polyglot marketing tactic” in out-of-home advertising.
When you think of mass marketing with a bit of flair, you may also think food and beverage, especially alcohol. This multi-story scaffold mesh ad for Beck's beer features a German headline that is a play on words and roughly translates to: “Better a cool beer than a refined pilsner.”
The tagline is in English: “The beer for a fresh generation.” That’s a lot of expensive ad space promoting a well-known German brand partly in English, in Germany (Becks was originally owned by a local family in Bremen in northern Germany until 2002; now it’s owned by the Belgian-based beverage giant InBev).
Perhaps you want a little nosh with your beer? You may be tempted to get a German bratwurst, but then you see a poster for Subway, the American sandwich franchise.
Walk around parts of Continental Europe and you may think you’re actually in the States or the U.K. due to the amount of English used in out-of-home advertising (e.g. billboards, scaffold banners, bus shelters, subway and bus posters, etc.). Glance at this Berlin subway advertisement below and you'll notice the headline is actually in English. Is English really taking over the world and replacing European languages in local advertising? Well, yes and no. It really depends on where you are.
In France, where Francophile-centric laws dictate what must be in French (mostly everything), you won’t see very much English in advertising, even in cosmopolitan Paris. However, in northern Europe and Germany, there is quite a bit of English – everywhere. Many people, especially those of the last two generations, are highly fluent in English and use it on a daily basis for business. That said, most ads are not exclusively in English; they combine two languages to form a polyglot marketing tactic. Advertisers get attention by portraying their brand as cool and youthful, but at the same time throw in some native language to get specifics across.
Who hasn't come — or rather stumbled — across a user's manual or instructions-for-use document for a foreign-made product they just bought and couldn't make heads or tails of the "translated" text? Or had to stop what they were doing and have an attack of hysterical laughter?
The value that a professional translator can add to the basic usability of such documents – let alone to the respect for the customer the manufacturer doubtlessly intends — is best demonstrated by a few choice examples of haphazard efforts in conveying such instructional contents in the target language.
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