You’ve no doubt read a lot about words and phrases that make people click, that progress them nicely along the intended customer journey, and that drive positive outcomes. But what’s the best way to do this when you’re marketing internationally? How can you make sure that the dead-end you avoided in English, isn’t going to take you down (for example) a Cantonese cul-de-sac?


Try to understand each and every target audience: the language(s) they speak and the words that are going to make them convert. This may not be the same content, language or tone of voice that you are using in the UK, and so gathering local audience insights will make sure you:

  • anticipate what content will appeal at each contact point
  • serve up this content on relevant channel(s) and in appropriate formats
  • write or localize copy that your customers will love, buy and share

You must also say the mantra: ‘Test, tweak, test, repeat’ because one single word can change everything. And one single word can be translated in many ways. (See our previous post on Message Optimisation.)


Being aware of regional differences is vital if you want to market overseas and avoid cultural clangers. In France and Germany, for example, differences in movie trailers can be linked to some of the most influential theories in the field of intercultural communication and marketing and advertising. A recent study compared original French movie trailers with their German counterparts for the same film (‘Beziehungsweise New York’ and ‘Casse-tête chinois’), and found that German trailers:

  • are shorter
  • present little change of music
  • communicate a lot of information and avoid uncertainties
  • combine vocals with visuals to make sure the viewers understand the message
  • show more violence, lack humour and tend to be more dramatic

French trailers are longer than German ones, but contain less information; things are evoked but not clearly expressed; violence tends to be avoided and the focus is on families and friendships rather than on wealth and business achievement. Humour is widely present and language plays an important factor. What can these movie trailers teach us? They show us differences based on cultural values that we must take into account when we’re localizing marketing or advertising content.


David Ogilvy’s list of influential words in marketing is as relevant today as it was in 1963. But don’t be fooled into thinking that these words will be as simple or compelling in other markets as they are on your home turf. Words might translate badly, or have a direct translation that could lose you credibility in a B2B context (the German translation of ‘Amazing’, for example). Whilst we’re on German – ‘Free’ (no cost) in German is ‘Kostenlos’, ‘Kostenlose’, ‘Kostenloser’ or ‘Kostenloses’  (depending on gender and volume). And there are legal restrictions to be aware of. For example, (I’m thinking of a leading car rental company), you can’t promise a ‘Rewards Day’ in Germany as being ‘Free’, as the customer still has to pay for the rentals in order to earn points – it’s not strictly ‘Free’. And if you aren’t already confused enough, there are yet more German translations to choose from, offering different levels of formality: ‘Für lau,’ ‘Gratis’ and ‘Zur freien Verfügung’.


After you’ve checked cultural relevancy, double checked local legitimacy and are super happy with your word selection, don’t forget to read the washing instructions – specifically for language shrinkage and stretch. How much space do you have? A punchy ‘Book now!’ CTA, leaping out of a cheesy starburst, could stretch to ‘Réservez dès maintenant’ in French. A bit of a mouthful, for which you’ll need to massively reduce the point size, lose the starburst (no bad idea) or simply choose another phrase.


Avoiding cultural cul-de-sacs, and making sure your content is locally compelling, takes time, global resources and dedication. At Wordbank, we have been building a network of copywriters, cultural consultants, linguists and digital marketers since 1988. Get in touch if you’d like us to help.

ABOUT Zoey Cooper

I’m a global content and brand strategist, with more than 15 years' experience researching, planning, delivering and testing content and brand solutions across multiple regions, languages and platforms. I love words. And I love culture. And I believe that the right combination of these two essential ingredients will deliver content that is not only on brand, but will engage customers and drive sales.

View All Posts