Cultural Universals Are Lost in the Translation
Regarding Simon Anholt's book Another One Bites the Grass, the one thing he never gets around to is "making sense of international advertising" [Adweek, Oct. 4]. Perhaps that's in the parts not excerpted, the parts we're supposed to buy.
He tells us what we can't do to understand other cultures. We can't speak the language well enough. We can't live there long enough. And even if we could, we still wouldn't understand foreigners because "individuals each have their own culture, too." What's a poor creature to do?
Anholt's solution of "cultural mapping" is never defined. We're given some image of a "satellite" view of a culture for "triangulation" purposes. It sounds more like "global-degook" to me.
The closest he comes to a real solution is the inference--not statement--that maybe local ad agencies might better understand local consumers and could translate other culture brands into something useful.
While Anholt keeps dwelling on cultural particulars, he seems to miss entirely any concept of cultural universals. Since we are all human beings, no matter what culture we live in, are there not some things we all share as people? Might not a foreign agency look for such universal wants and needs to see how they are satisfied in the target culture?
Finally, Anholt's overriding attitude is one I've often encountered in the past: that Brits are somehow more culturally adept at being creative in this country than Yanks could ever be shilling in theirs. Ever try to get an ad job in the U.K.? Impossible.
Coyote Hill Advertising,
It would seem Simon Anholt has made a good living, and has now published a book, on the notion that great advertising in one language doesn't always translate to another language. But before handing their brands over to Anholt and other gurus of "cross-culture," perhaps advertisers might get yet another "second opinion."
Just try this. Pick up a copy of Lurzer's Archive and leaf through it.
There, with literal headline translations included, one will find that great advertising is consistently great--month after month--no matter the language (Dutch, German, French)
or dialect (the English spoken here versus that spoken in South Africa or Singapore) it's written in.
No doubt, there are some things that get lost in the translation between vastly different cultures. But one could argue that if an idea depends on a cultural colloquialism, perhaps it's not speaking the most important language of all: the powerful emotional language that all of us, as human beings, understand immediately.
Fitch, Ann Arbor, Mich.