Sunday, December 03, 2006

On Slogans

An interesting report from the Telegraph:
When the German car-maker Audi wanted to promote its vehicles, its "Vorsprung durch Technik" slogan became one of the best-known lines in advertising.
But although overseas admirers of Teutonic engineering grasped the point of the "progress through technology" sales pitch, the English catchphrases deployed to push cars and clothes back at the Germans have merely confused them.
The average German's grasp of English may be competent, but campaigns such as the Jaguar's "Life by Gorgeous" are met with bafflement.
The study, by the Cologne agency Endmark, asked Germans aged 14 to 49 to translate 12 common English slogans that appeared on billboards locally. Around two thirds of those surveyed did not properly understand what was being said.
Bernd Samland, the head of Endmark, said: "Advertising experts sometimes disregard the cultural differences and push for the 'One World, One Brand, One Claim' motto.
"But our study shows that the message often simply does not get across."
Mr Samland quoted a slogan advertising Beck's beer, "Welcome to the Beck's experience", which fewer than one in five understood. Most thought the message meant "Welcome to Beck's experiment". Mr Samland added: "It's not purely a matter of not understanding English, as the age groups chosen were those most likely to have sufficient command of the language."
This demonstrates an interesting linguistic point... If one is not a native speaker of a language, then context becomes very important in understanding the meaning of a text. Advertising slogans of just a few words are therefore surprisingly difficult to translate. I'm a fairly competent reader of Italian, and will happily trawl through pages of theology in Italian. However, pithy advertising slogans cause me much more difficulty because there isn't the same amount of context around them - not understanding a single word or misreading the tense of a verb doesn't make much difference in a theological treatise because the surrounding sentences provide the context that supplies the meaning of the word, or corrects the inital misreading. One doesn't get that with a short slogan of a few words, and not getting the meaning of each and every word leaves one stranded.

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