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Laughter or tears? Christmas ads from around the world

By Josian Phillips, 

It’s that time of year again when office chat turns to everyone’s favourite Christmas ads.  Who cried, who laughed, which are the cutest, the cleverest. Compilations such as “John Lewis: every Christmas advert since 2007” and The Best Christmas Ads Ever fill the Internet. But  how do these ads translate? Can standardised, global ads work across markets or should brands be wary of ignoring localisation – of different cultures and their approaches to Christmas?

Take, for example, this French TV ad for Intermarché – “J’ai tant rêvé”. A family visits Santa in their local store. The little boy is shocked by the enormity of Santa’s belly. He fears it could impede his drop down the chimney with their presents. So he and his sister make it their mission to bring Father Christmas low-fat food in the store every day until Christmas.

Although there is some dialogue towards the beginning, this ad could potentially work a treat across Western Europe and the U.S., for example. Until, that is, the ad shows us Christmas Eve, and one of the children switches Santa’s mince pie for… an artichoke. You see the problem. While this will raise a few laughs among your average Italian or French person, who can enjoy a feast of common artichokes in the roadside caff any May time, I’m not too sure how many Santa believers in the UK or U.S. would even know what an artichoke is.

And then there’s this month’s furor caused by Swedish department store Åhléns, which actively decided to go against the cultural concept of a traditional Swedish Christmas, saying instead that “A real Swedish Christmas has German spruce, Dutch saffron bread and a Turkish Santa.” No doubt, this was a well-intended attempt at social inclusion, however the store has received much flak for bringing politics into Christmas, and confusing many who believe that Turks, 97% of whom are Muslim, do not celebrate with family at Christmas time. (Many do).

A touching and poignant ad where the introduction of politics was a great success, is Sainsbury’s 2014 collaboration with The Royal Legion to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War 1. It portrays the Christmas Day football match on No Man’s Land, when opposing soldiers put down their weapons in a brave show of momentary peace. The risky ad content paid off, with national sentiment and hope for the kindness of humanity at Christmas coming out on top.

One of my favourite German Christmas ads is Edeka’s 2015 ad, when a lonely grandfather goes to great extremes to get his family together at Christmas. Spoiler alert: he fakes his own death. It’s a real tear-jerker, hammering home the importance of making time for family – especially elderly and isolated relatives – at Christmas. This concept could potentially translate well across many Western cultures.

However, the idea that an ad can be truly global is one that sits badly with me. I agree with Will Harris, a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region, who wrote in Campaign magazine: “The idea of connecting people suffering in the austerity of southern Europe, with the optimism of those in the Americas is laughable. And how you can conceive of a message for the diversity of Africa that would work with the stiff northern Europeans is beyond me.” He goes onto say that “global advertising creation on the grounds of efficiency works brilliantly from conception to the point of broadcast, when it doesn’t.”

How to localise content for TV and video

So how do you go about localising content for TV and video? This is where translation services come in. A good agency will have a wide and deep roster of linguists across the globe, who understand the subtleties when it comes to not just language, but also to colours, symbols, weights and measures and so on. We recommend that you:

  1. Think about globalisation from the start
  2. Leave some pauses in your video
  3. Avoid on-screen titles
  4. Leave subtitle space

You can find out more about these recommendations in this blog – Translating your video content: 5 top tips and this one – Essential steps for video translation that resonates.

If you need help with TV or video translation or just want some friendly advice, please get in touch – we’d love to help.

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