Advertising in Europe, Part One

Category: International Business, Marketing Translation

To Translate or Not to Translate, That is the Question

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.

When should you venture into English advertising for Continental Europeans? Which countries or regions are hip to this practice and even expect some English? Which prefer only to advertise in their native language? And if you mix it up a bit, how much should be left in English versus translated (or transcreated) into the native language? These are all questions to ask your marketing translation provider and their in-country specialists who can tell you the local norms of each country, region and even, each specific city where you want to advertise.

To give you an idea of the English-in-Europe advertising revolution, here’s a sampling of out-of-home adverts that appeared in Europe (mainly Berlin, Germany) this past summer.

Berlin is unofficially a bilingual city. In cafes, street corners and business meetings, hearing both German and English is commonplace. This is true for locals and true for tourists. Ja, you’d expect tourist-targeted billboards to be in English and/or other popular tourist languages, such as the bicycle rental location below.


This totally makes sense: they are targeting tourists, therefore emphasize English, along with German (there are plenty of German, Austrian and Swiss tourists in Berlin), Spanish and French.

Ride your rental bike on a little tour around Berlin and you’ll see English as a top ten hit with music advertising. Many German radio stations play a rotation of English songs. The concert posters below demonstrate English’s penetration into the European music world.

Now you’d expect tourist signs and music promotions to be in English in this youthful, cosmopolitan city, but does English continue to dominate other types of outdoor advertising for other marketing categories and global brands?

We’ll ride our rental bike around Berlin in our next installment of this blog to learn where English is used or not, so stay tuned!