Asia is a market which is constantly evolving. More and more brands are deciding to have their legal, sales and marketing documents translated, primarily into Chinese and Japanese. But what does that really involve? Which cultural specificities should one be aware of to ensure a successful linguistic adaptation?
EXPORTING TO ASIA: THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND
First of all, Asian languages are written in special characters that require special fonts. For example, Japanese requires multiple types of characters: phonetic characters (which represent sounds), ideographic characters (which represent an idea), Arabic numerals and sometimes even Latin letters.
Apart from the issue of characters, there is also the direction of reading. For Japanese and Chinese there are various formats depending on the type of material. For example, in Japan people write horizontally and from left to right (in Western order, that is) in some magazines, on computer screens and sometimes written notes. In contrast, vertical writing in columns going from top to bottom and ordered from right to left (traditional) is often used in books, mangas, official documents and newspapers. The linguistic adaptation of a text must take these factors into account.
APPROACH TO MARKETING
Cultural specificities are an essential aspect of marketing. In general Japanese people are very meticulous and have high standards. They also tend to be reserved, so translating marketing texts with humour which is a bit risqué can turn out to be a challenge. For example, a men’s underwear brand had planned its marketing campaign around the word “moon”, playing on the fact that their products allowed the user to avoid “mooning” when bending down. The Japanese translation of this called for a major adaptation which maintained the humorous approach without shocking the target audience.
Another major difference is celebrations, especially those at the end of the year. Our New Year does not coincide with the Chinese New Year, and Japanese people do not celebrate Christmas in the same way that Westerners do. Promotional materials based around Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the West must therefore be adapted to an Eastern Asian market, either by making the context of the source culture clear (European, American etc.) or by adapting the promotional campaign to local bank holidays.
Slogans, posters, TV advertisements and other advertisements should also be handled with care. Literal translations are sure to fail and may even cause offence or misunderstandings. The rules and conventions in Japan are very different to those we are familiar with in Europe. This means care should be taken to avoid including images in sales content that seem harmless but in fact may carry vulgar and disturbing connotations in Japanese culture (for example a person who is too expressive, speaking in a loud voice, blowing their nose in public etc.).
To sum up, exporting to an Eastern Asian market requires working with specialists of your target market who are up to speed with the culture and who are able to give you valuable advice to prevent you from committing blunders which would spell disaster for your positioning in Asia.