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Vanilla or tutti frutti? Is advertising in Germany just plain boring…?

German Branding , German Language , Slogan

One of the many fun things about visiting another country is watching TV advertisements. It always fascinates me how they vary from country to country and what they tell us about consumer behaviour and cultural mindsets. When I visited Germany as a school student back in the 1990s, I loved watching and hearing advertisements on the TV and radio. Advertising in Germany was different to what I was used to and singing along to jingles such as “Knorr, Essen mit Lust und Liebe!” and “Haribo macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso!” played a part in helping me to learn the German language and understand the culture.

The Haribo jingle, which was first aired in Germany in the 1960s, can now be heard in English as “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!” Long before it made its way to English-speaking realms, I remember being highly amused by my exchange partner’s alternative version which went “Katzenklo macht Katzen froh!” This translates literally as “cat litter trays make cats happy.” Hilarious! Don’t judge me… remember TikTok hadn’t been invented yet.

Busting stereotypes

I have become aware through my translation work that German advertising has earned the reputation of being boring, particularly compared to American advertising, which is generally perceived to be flashier, funnier and more innovative. This might have something to do with the stereotypes that are associated with Germans, such as their orderliness and precision compared to their “free-spirited” American cousins.

The somewhat dated yet still iconic “Unmistakeably German” advertisement by Citroën sums up this stereotypical view of Germans very well.

Image by Siderfly on Pixabay

Now, we all know that stereotypes are unfair and inaccurate. That’s whI’ve done some digging to find out more about the advertising styles in the USA and Germany and to confirm if German advertising really is as dull as ditchwater.

Money, money, money

According to a 2019 report by Düsseldorf Trade & Invest, American companies spend 38% of their total budgets on marketing, while German companies spend less than half of that. This gives us the first clue why German advertising may not be able to push the boundaries of innovation and creativity as much as American advertisers, who have huge budgets to spend in comparison.

Heads versus hearts

In addition to budgets, there are other factors that influence the advertising styles of each country. In broad terms, German consumers tend to make decisions with their heads, while American consumers look to their hearts. This is why German ads often include lots of facts and figures that help the consumer to make wise and rational decisions, while American ads appeal to the emotions.

Food ads in Germany, for instance, often prioritise key information about nutritional benefits or other certifications that attest to the quality of the products rather than the taste experience. For example, German beer manufacturers often highlight the “Reinheitsgebot” (Purity Law) to demonstrate the quality of the beer. Other food manufacturers like to point out the rating they have achieved from the hallowed consumer organisation, Stiftung Warentest.

By contrast, American ads often focus on how the product makes the consumer feel on an emotional or sensory level. This selection of the 25 best food ads in 2021 gives us a little taste. For example, the slogan on an English ad for Nutella is written in the chocolatey spread and states “Please do not lick the page”. In doing so, it is asking the viewer to imagine how the product tastes and feels rather than think about its specific ingredients or other more tangible qualities.

Quality reassurance

According to a thesis on German advertising by Yannick Kluch, avoidance of uncertainty is very important for German consumers, which helps to explain why many ads made for this region feature so many facts, certifications and expert testimonials. Predictability is an important part of this. For example, the slogan for a popular washing detergent is “Da weiss man, was man hat”, which roughly translates as “You know what you’re getting.” It highlights how much German consumers like products that are familiar and that will offer a guaranteed level of quality.

Image by PDPics on Pixabay

The same brand uses a very different slogan in English-speaking domains: “Dirt is good”. The aim of this slogan is not to reassure the customer about the quality of the product but to get a conversation going and create a sense of intrigue.

Tradition personified

If “Qualität” is one of the most often used words in German advertising, then it is closely followed by “Tradition.” The idea that a company has been around a long time and is steeped in tradition provides the German consumers with the reassurance they crave. Companies that go back hundreds of years, such as Pelikan (stationery), Meindl (walking boots) and Villeroy & Boch (ceramics), will take every opportunity to point out their long and noble histories to demonstrate quality and expertise.

The German coffee brand Tchibo even personified these concepts of tradition and wisdom in the form of the Tchibo Man who appeared in ads in Germany in the 1960s and 70s. He is presented as a coffee expert who travels the world in pursuit of the finest coffee beans.

Whilst some American advertising does look back on the past, this tends to be used to evoke feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality rather than to make a product appear credible and trustworthy. As a rule, American advertising mirrors a culture that is constantly looking forward, so much of its advertising highlights newness and innovation instead of the idea of tradition.

Superlatively superlative

Another key difference between German and American advertising is the use of hyperbole. American advertising tends to be bolder and more emphatic with its use of phrases such as “most unique”, “world’s best” and “the very ultimate.” The “Best a man can get” slogan for the well-known razor brand Gillette illustrates this well, while Budweiser confidently calls itself the “King of Beer” and Coors boasts that it is “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer.”  German companies tend to take a more understated and modest approach by comparison.

Home and away

According to Yannick Kluch’s thesis, American advertising is generally more inward-looking while German advertisers like to draw inspiration from the wider world. The American flag can often be seen in American ads to symbolize strength and national pride. American brands such as Levi’s, Ford, Jack Daniels and Coca Cola often feature the American flag or other symbols such as the bald eagle, the Rocky Mountains or cowboys in their advertising.

By contrast, German advertisers are unlikely to focus on symbols of national pride because most Germans have mixed and complex feelings about patriotism. This is why most Germans do not celebrate German Unity Day on 3rd of October in the same way that Americans celebrate Independence Day on 4th of July.

Instead of focusing on Germany itself, German advertising tends to have a more international outlook and will often draw on themes such as travel and adventure in distant lands. This is well illustrated in the slogan of the German beer brand Erdinger Weissbier “In Bayern daheim, in der Welt zuhause” (At home in Bavaria and across the world) and visually through the emblem of Beck’s beer, a sailing ship which is usually pictured gliding over the waves on the open sea.

Vorsprung durch creativity

So, the evidence so far tells us that German advertising tends to be more fact-driven, tradition-focused, outward-looking and restrained than its American counterpart. The German desire for information to avoid uncertainty is perhaps why it has been difficult to produce creative and innovative ads in this region.

However, my research tells me that this only applies to a certain degree. I have actually found plenty of evidence to suggest that German advertising can be just as creative and innovative as its American equivalent, despite the smaller budgets.

According to Yannick Kluch’s report, there was a shift in the advertising landscape in Germany at the start of the 2000s. This is when German advertising started to become more modern, diverse and creative, and the idea of using storytelling, emotion and other tricks started to catch on.

Once upon a time…

Many modern German advertisers make very clever use of storytelling to grab attention and to connect with their audiences on an emotional level. A very good example is the 2020 Christmas campaign by the pharmaceuticals company DocMoris, which took social media by storm across the world.

Accompanied by an emotional soundtrack, the ad shows an old man getting up early every day in the weeks leading up to Christmas to get into shape. He is shown dragging out his rusty old dumbbell from the garden shed to tone his ageing muscles. His neighbours and daughter think that he has gone completely mad. But it all becomes clear in the final scene when he visits his family for the Christmas festivities.

We watch the old man hand his 5-year-old granddaughter a gift box with a glittering star inside. He then takes a deep breath and sweeps her up in his newly muscled arms so she can place the star on top of the tree. The ad finishes with the slogan: “So that you can take care of what really matters in life.” I defy anyone not to get choked up by this tender scene – it gets me every time I watch it. If you need evidence that German advertising is creative and emotionally charged, then this is it.

Super wicked

Mark Twain once said that “A German joke is no laughing matter” which may have contributed to the unfortunate stereotype about Germans lacking a sense of humour.  But you only have to look at a few examples of German advertising to know this isn’t true. There are many German ads that are gloriously funny, whacky and entertaining.

A particularly striking example is the “Supergeil” advert by the supermarket chain Edeka , which became a viral hit. It features the musician Friedrich Liechtenstein slow rapping about how “supergeil” (literally “super wicked”) supermarket purchases can be. He is shown dancing in the supermarket aisles with supermodels, bathing in milk fully clothed and smoking a hot dog like a cigar. It’s a deliciously amusing and ironic ad.

Another brilliant example is a VW Leasing ad featuring fully grown-up humans pretending to be cats and getting up to a range of feline antics, including hissing at their own reflections and coughing up fur balls.

Image by Luis Wilker WilkerNet on Pixabay

Some of the funniest and cleverest German ads I have seen are by the DIY chain Hornbach. Their spring 2022 TV ad features a pile of garden rubbish joyriding through the neighbourhood and causing havoc like teenage gangsters and ends with the tagline “Come to Hornbach before your garden does.”

Ach Jochen!

German advertisers are also not afraid to use sex for comic effect. An advert by the electronics retailer MediaMarkt presents itself as the antidote to modern life by depicting a series of frustrating and embarrassing situations, including a naked yoga session.

What’s more, German advertising is also far from conservative when it comes to swearing. For example, one of Smart Car’s slogans is “F**ing relaxed in the city” and the City of Berlin wasn’t afraid to use shock tactics to get people to comply with mask rules during the pandemic. This translates loosely as “We’re showing the middle finger to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask.”

Innovation is the name of the game

If you think German advertising is not very innovative, then think again. I have found plenty of ingenious campaigns and advertising stunts that show Germany is among the pioneers in future-forward advertising.

For example, the brewery company Astra uses the latest facial recognition technology to create personalised ads. The video ads, which target female beer drinkers, change according to who is viewing them. If a man or underage drinker approaches the billboard, they are told in a comical way that the ad is not for them.

The soft drink brand Powerade also created interactive “workout” billboards in the form of a rotating climbing wall to encourage audience engagement.

But for me, the best example of innovative German advertising is the edible hemp tickets in Berlin Transport’s 2021 Christmas campaign. The tickets are infused with hemp oil to help passengers combat pre-Christmas stress. This is an ingenious idea that taps into the wellness trend in an innovative and witty way.

A rainbow of flavours

I started my investigation of German advertising thinking that it was as bland as vanilla ice cream compared to the fun and flashiness of American advertising, but it appears I was wrong. Even though German advertisers sometimes aim to appeal to the consumer’s desire for predictability and credibility, there are many examples that show German advertising can be just as entertaining, emotional and inventive.

Whilst a cursory look at a country’s advertising can tell us something about cultural attitudes, it is never a good idea to generalise. Not all American advertising is exciting and humorous and not all German advertising is traditional and serious. So, it’s not a matter of having to choose between vanilla and tutti frutti – there’s a rainbow of flavours to choose from no matter where you are.

Header image by Jollymama on Pixabay

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Alarm clock and text "how long does transcreation take?"

How long does transcreation take?

German Language , Slogan , Transcreation

We’re often asked how quickly we can deliver. Generally, transcreating is one of – if not the – final step(s) in a long process that starts with the development of a brand and ends with the rollout of an international marketing strategy. Of course, project management would be a whole lot easier if the time required for transcreation could be neatly summarized in a simple formula, like so: 

Still with me? Jokes aside, working out the number of hours needed is far from straightforward. Clients are often surprised by how long it takes to transcreate a document. They wonder why a text that so many brilliant minds have labored over for countless hours can’t simply be translated into another language. Surely it’s not that hard?!

Exhibit A: the cult slogan

But what actually happens when a text is transcreated? Let’s take a well-known advertising slogan as an example: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!” At first glance, it seems unbelievably simple. But that is precisely what makes a slogan so unique: It manages to communicate the core message of a brand in just a few words. A slogan should be catchy, convey an emotion, and stick in the customer’s mind.
But what appears effortless is in fact the result of countless hours of brainstorming and seemingly never-ending discussions. To put it plainly: That one short sentence required a whole lot of work. If you were to literally translate the Haribo slogan into French, you would get the following: Les enfants et les adultes l’adorent, le joyeux monde d’Haribo. Although an accurate translation, it’s nowhere near as memorable. And you don’t have to be a French native speaker to see it: The rhyme is nowhere to be seen and the catchy melody of the original has been lost.

The transcreation process: back to the drawing board!

What we need is an alternative. To ensure the slogan (and thus the product) is also successful in the French-speaking world, a French version is required that customers will remember as soon as they hear it. But the French slogan must also stay true to the original. So, we need to

  • convey the message of the original slogan,
  • elicit a similar emotion among our French-speaking target audience, 
  • respect the brand’s tone of voice and values,
  • and create something that is short, snappy, and memorable.

In other words, a transcreator must come up with a brand-new slogan. And their method is similar to the one used to develop the original tagline. First, they make sure they have an overview of the company and their services, their target audience, and USPs; second, they brainstorm, i.e. develop several different versions; and, thirdly, they tweak the chosen phrase until it is as good as the original (if not better). If we return to our original example, we can compare our direct translation to the actual French slogan: Haribo c’est beau la vie, pour les grands et les petits. It sounds just like the original: It rhymes, it’s catchy, and it’s accurate. And it’s clear that this new transcreated version is a world away from the literal translation.

Worth the effort?

The second question that clients most often ask when considering transcreation is: “Is it worth the effort?” Most can understand the importance of going to such lengths to get a slogan right, but what about online copy, social media posts, and emails to clients? Surely they can just be translated, right? In her book Translation-Transkreation, Nina Sattler-Hovdar, the authority on the subject in the German-speaking world, recommends always resorting to transcreation if

“[…] the text to be translated is important for the client’s image (and thus has a direct or indirect impact on their revenue). […] This means texts that can substantially benefit a brand’s image (or do lasting damage to a brand if they underperform).” [Sattler-Hovdar, 2016: p. 20] (own translation).

But why? Let’s imagine you are working on an email campaign specifically aimed at a younger target group, e.g. millennials. You use a more informal style and perhaps consider a funny play on words for the subject line to grab your prospective customers’ attention (and to boost your open rate). What happens when this email is directly translated into German? Can you be sure to keep the same laid-back tone without offending any prospective readers? And what about your attention-grabbing subject line? Any sort of wordplay is almost always lost in a literal translation. In sum, everything that would resonate with your English-speaking audience and make your email unique would simply vanish – unless you decide to have your email transcreated so that the modern, fresh tone of voice is still conveyed but in a different way. 

Stay closely involved

Marketing texts involve considerable human and financial resources, and that is precisely why it is wise to also plan sufficient time for your transcreation. Only then can you be sure to convey the right message to your customers. So, how much time should you set aside for your transcreation? A good rule of thumb is to look at how much time it took to create the original: the longer it took to develop the final copy, the more time you will need to finalize your transcreation.

Ideally, you should ask an experienced transcreation specialist to give you their opinion. They should be able to tell you where the text is likely to cause issues in the target language and why. You might also be able to offer some helpful tips that enable transcreation professionals to come up with some effective alternatives: Even if you’re not a professional linguist, nobody knows your product or your company better than you. This means you are more involved in the transcreation process and may allow you to keep the number of necessary revisions to a minimum. It’s also important to thoroughly brief your transcreator. How should an audience perceive your brand? What does your company stand for? Who is your target audience? A professional will ask you all of these questions. The more information you can provide, the more efficient the remaining steps will be.

To summarize

The length of time needed to transcreate a text largely depends on how much creativity has gone into the original. For instance, a slogan usually requires more creative thinking than a newsletter text as it has to capture the very essence of a brand in just a handful of words. An experienced transcreation specialist will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the time required for your project so that the resulting text is just as well thought out, catchy, and compelling as the original.

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The business of branding: What does a pretzel have to do with transcreation?

German companies often believe they need an English name and slogan to sound truly international. Even we thought as much as we were building the brand for our joint business venture: a platform for German marketing and PR translations from English, Italian, and French. It didn’t take us long to realize one vital fact: Even if you think you’ve hit upon the perfect idea for your company name, your target market will (and should) always have the final say.

A coffee mug and a pretzel… how do they relate to transcreation?

Brand development is an exciting yet onerous task for many businesses. Initially, you focus solely on your key message and how you would like your brand to be perceived. The next step is putting these ideas into practice. Several rounds of trial and error follow until you eventually arrive at a solution that works not only for your business but for your target market.

That’s precisely what we did after making the decision to join forces and launch our own German transcreation business. Right from our first brainstorming session, we knew that we didn’t want our brand name to feature the words “translation” or “language”. This was partly driven by a desire to stand out from our competitors in the translation world, where business names often relate to language or play with linguistic terms. But, crucially, our preferred choices were already taken – and the relevant domain names too.

An international focus with a German twist

We thus set about finding a name that adequately reflected who we are and what we do. It needed to be international but still have a connection to Germany.

Our minds soon turned to a delicious German baked good that is instantly recognizable and known the world over: the pretzel. It features signature twists and loops, which could also serve as a metaphor for the transcreation process: After all, a transcreator sometimes has to take a meandering route to find the best word or phrase. It seemed to perfectly capture our brand. Before long, we were conjuring up ideas based on the doughy delicacy. To make our brand sound more international, we opted for the English equivalent instead of the German word (Brezel). After several rounds of elimination, the candidates on our final list included:

  • Pretzelize it
  • Pretzel Branding
  • Pretzel Logic

Our shortlist also featured a name that we instantly liked even though it had absolutely nothing to do with the word “pretzel”: “Saramatik”, our two names combined – Sarah and Magali – with a German-sounding twist at the end, like the popular Asterix comics, where the names of the Gaulish characters end in “ix” and the Goths in “ic” (or “ik” in the German versions).

Both of us were convinced by our pretzel idea, but we also wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t end up being inundated with cake orders or that the name didn’t conjure up any unwanted images in readers’ minds. More importantly, our name not only needed to work in English and German but in French and Italian too. We therefore decided to unleash our creations upon an international test group for some honest feedback.

Not so logical after all

It was an exciting race to see which name would come out on top. We kept tabs on how our test group responded to each suggestion and learned many interesting new facts along the way, e.g. that “Pretzel Logic” is the name of a Steely Dan song. Not only that, but the expression can also be used to describe someone’s “twisted reasoning”. As our service primarily focuses on precisely conveying a company’s branding in another language, “Pretzel Logic” suddenly seemed a less than ideal choice.

“Pretzelize it” and “Pretzel Branding” divided opinion. Like us, many approved of the names’ reference to a tasty treat. But no one was able to decipher an exact meaning. A French native speaker, for example, had no idea what “pretzel” even meant, as the French use the word bretzel. As for “Pretzelize”, well… the following Wiktionary definition stopped that idea dead in its tracks:

Pretzelize: To deform a simple linear idea into a superfluously complex explanation.

Our aim is to offer natural and fluent sounding adaptations of marketing texts; the last thing we would want to do is “pretzelize” our clients’ copy! 

“Saramatik”, however, went down well with all our target groups irrespective of their native language. The name also passed the following branding check with flying colors: 

  • The name and domain were available. ✔
  • It was short and concise enough to also work well as a logo. ✔
  • “Saramatik” was easy for everyone to pronounce, be they native speakers of English, French, or Italian. ✔
  • The name was unambiguous in all the languages spoken by our test group (although it would probably be wise to avoid the abbreviation “SM”). ✔

Our survey thus gave us a clear winner. Sorry, team pretzel – no spoils for you. Saramatik is the victor!

Take the time to get your branding right

Finding the right name for your business not only requires creativity but patience and a cool head. Blind enthusiasm can quickly turn into disappointment if your chosen name is already taken or just doesn’t make any sense in your target market. That is why we recommend investing plenty of time in research, brainstorming, and evaluation.

Ideally, you should ask a language professional to offer feedback on a short list of your favorite ideas. This is especially true when your brand name needs to be effective in more than one language. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped bring this project to life with their valuable feedback and many useful suggestions. We are very much looking forward to launching Saramatik and can’t wait to hear the many stories behind our clients’ company names. 

And should you require any assistance with German branding for your business, we will be happy to help you with tips, feedback, and copywriting skills.

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