Advertising across the UK is evolving in all kinds of directions. For the most part, in better directions. Advertising usually reflects the values of a market. When we take a closer looks at these values, it is possible to build a picture of what is needed or wanted in a certain culture. Even more interestingly, it is possible to chart trends as priorities and values shift over periods of time.

One segment of British culture is currently evolving at surprising speed, and that is the practice of home cooking. People are beginning to take ownership of what they eat, and our television series, cook books and Instagram habits are documenting and enhancing this trend, every step of the way.

Pinning down exactly what is influencing this developing trend is tough. It could be that many different facets are evolving linearly, and weaving in and out of one another in the process. Perhaps interest in healthy food, awareness of current issues, and appreciation of advertising are all becoming more present independently. There is a chance that these contrasting cultural tropes are autonomous, although it is unlikely given the demand for versatility and choice in modern life. However, the variety of material we are exposed to on social media can at least be given credit for extending awareness of the world of cooking. There is clear evidence on Instagram that we associate qualities and values such as health, quality of life and aesthetic presentation with various cuisines. More recently, people are becoming more interested in and educated on the sourcing of ingredients and sustainability of production methods, as well as the appeal of the actual food. Successful food organisations are making their sourcing and production methods an inherent part of their brand. Some cultures are famous for adopting these methods and adhering to certain values. As we discussed last week, by eating and enjoying certain foods, it can feel as if we are assuming or even absorbing some fraction of those cultures.

The Italian influence on British cooking was evident long before Jamie Oliver, although his brand is a constant reminder of the attraction of Italian cooking. British cuisine is derived from many different cultures, continuously enriching and broadening the scope for variety and enjoyment of food. On his website, Jamie discusses all the things he loves about Italy. They match what I as a consumer already think about Italy, from decades of social stereotyping and cultural reinforcement. I think of Italian cooking as revolving around family, celebration and community.

For centuries, Britain has mimicked various cuisines from places like Italy until they have become an inherent part of British culture. Gleaning products, rituals and values from different places is something we love to do as an island nation, and this is often heavily influenced by trends in advertising. American milkshakes, Italian pizzas, Russian vodka and African tagine are just some of the familiar things that are regularly available to eat on a night out. Food is multicultural, and it is one of the oldest and most effective tools of integration – integration in the sense of discussion, acceptance, and sharing knowledge. There is no meeting or conversation that cannot be improved by participants enjoying a drink or some food. No matter which cultures or languages are involved.

I did a small exercise yesterday on what certain words mean to me, contrasted with their direct translations into other languages. It was helpful to understand that even when a word has a (technically) direct equivalent in the target language, it simply might not fit in with what the word makes me feel in the source language. What I feel when I hear a word is influenced by my whole life, past and present. Most of my life has been spent in Britain, and so I associate words with mostly British symbolism. For example:

The meaning of ‘festive’ as described by the Cambridge English dictionary, is ‘having or producing happy and enjoyable feelings for a special occasion.’
As a British person, to me festive usually means Christmas or another winter-time celebration. I think of cinnamon, sharp cold mornings, a feeling of building excitement. I think of snow, and sweet alcoholic drinks, rich meals and sparkly things. ‘Festive’ to me is colourful, quiet, enjoyable and slow.
The Italian translation of ‘festive’, is ‘festivo’. This also means ‘holiday’. It can also mean ‘Sunday’, and is often used on timetables. In a culture famous for living in an almost permanent state of the warm, enjoyable feelings that I described above, ‘festivo’ isn’t quite the right word for what I mean.
In Portuguese, the word is also ‘festivo’, but it means to have the atmosphere, decoration or attitude of a festival or party. These are wonderful, warm, social aesthetic meanings, but still not quite hitting the nail on the head of what ‘festive’ means to me.
So what word would it take for an Italian to describe the cinnamonny, sparkly, Christmassy feeling that I get when I hear ‘festive’? For example, how would I convey that same feeling in one word, to someone in German? These are the complex puzzles that surround transcreation, because to project an advertisement into a new language successfully is to convey and awaken the same feelings in the new language.

But some words in English simply don’t have a direct equivalent – or even an indirect equivalent – in other languages. This is why English has traditionally borrowed so many succinct words and expressions from other languages (think ‘schadenfreude’). The same is true the other way around. To recreate a feeling or a notion in another language isn’t as simple as saying the same (or similar) words. The new campaign has to resonate, and push all the same buttons in the target language as in the source.

Finding exactly what it is that gives your brand or advert meaning is the very first step in the transcreation process. We want to find out exactly what buttons are being pushed. Understanding how the copy makes the target audience feel, and what they are inspired to do based on that feeling, is the second. Then the real job starts:  reproducing that feeling and sense of purpose (resulting in action) in an entirely new language. It isn’t enough to simply translate word for word. The service we provide at The Word Gym begins with understanding the concepts that construct the advert in the first place. By asking the difficult questions, we produce the most effective results.

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