Laughter Sells: The Challenge Of Translating British Humor In Marketing

July 7, 2022
Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

British humor has a good reputation. It’s seen as more of a high-brow and intellectual form of comedy. People who appreciate British humor see themselves as having a more refined taste. Ideally, humor can be used for marketing effectively, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

In this article, we will explore why translating British humor for marketing can be so challenging. We will also look into how a translation agency can handle humorous content. Some industries like the entertainment industry can handle humorous content quite often but for others, it is not.

How Effective Is Humor in Marketing

The use of humor in marketing is somewhat controversial.

Some say that humor is an effective way for catching the attention of the audience. It can also be useful in enhancing comprehension, making the audience understand the message in a better way. The main drawback of using humor in marketing is that it’s use is rather limited. For example, you can use humor for marketing a product for a child but you cannot use it for marketing something like a drug for cancer. It would seem tasteless to use rumors in cases like that.

A study has proven that the effectiveness of humor in marketing actually depends on the kind of product being sold. Products or brands that are already perceived as humorous or light will benefit from the use of humorous marketing.

In other words, using humor in marketing works best when you are reaching out to a customer that you’re familiar with. One that you have established rapport with.

Only use humor when your audience is already expecting it from your brand or your company. If you would like to establish that your brand and company are humorous then that takes a great deal of planning.

Examples of the Use of Humor in Marketing

There are plenty of examples of the effective use of humor in marketing. Here are two of those:

The Dollar Shave Club

The best modern example of a company that successfully used humor to market is the Dollar Shave Club. The company sells shaving equipment and was just a small fry in a niche that’s filled with giants.

Did they try to compete with Gillette or the other big names? No, instead they opted to use social media. They posted a humorous video with the owner of the company boasting how awesome their products are and why viewers should be their customers.

It has boosted their sales and made them a viral sensation on the internet.

Old Spice

If there is one example of a humorous brand then that would be Old Spice. If you have seen one of their ads and you must have then laughed or at least smiled at one of their antics. While their ads are clearly humorous, it is further enhanced by how they use their social media.

The way that their social media is handled matches perfectly with the way their ads are made. You can check out their social media accounts to see a sample of how they interact with users.

With Old Spice, you see a brand that uses humor to target everyone. Although their products are for men, their clever marketing and advertising target both men and women.

Why Translating Humor Is Difficult

Ask the most experienced translator in the world and she would agree that humor is one of the most difficult things to translate. There are several reasons why the translation of humor is so difficult.

One reason is that there are plenty of instances when humor is based on wordplay or on the meaning or lack of meaning of words. Take the case of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the movie, King Arthur and one of his knights encounter the Knights Who Say “Ni!”. One of the reasons why the scene is so funny is because of the absurdity of the idea of an order of knights who are dedicated to uttering a single nonsense word. Most of Monty Python’s comedy skits are made that way, based on absurdity.

But the challenge of translating this kind of comedy is that the nonsense word might mean something in another language. For example, “ni” means no in Ukrainian. The alternative is to use a different word or to change the joke altogether.

The use of puns, allusions, and irony are not easy to translate. This is so true with British comedy, which is more dry compared to American comedy.

Translating Marketing Humor Is Even More Challenging

If translating humor is a challenge then translating humor that’s used for marketing purposes is even more difficult. What’s funny about one language is not necessarily in other languages. Just as what’s humorous in other countries and cultures is not necessarily humorous in others.

Remember, humor is not just based on language but on the culture where it is used. British humor is anchored on British culture.

Tips for Translating Humor into Marketing

Translating humor for marketing is not easy. That much has been established.

But a translation agency that knows how to resolve language-related problems including the translation of humorous content for businesses, has established processes and best practices for language solutions that they can follow to leave a lasting impression. One of the biggest challenges that professional translation agencies face when they are working with humorous content is dealing with jokes that have a cultural basis.

Translators usually assess the content and determine if it can be translated in a more direct way. If the content has too much of a cultural divide then they determine if they come up with another joke that matches the target language.

Wordplays are handled in almost the same way. In almost all cases, wordplays cannot translate directly. What translators usually do is create a different wordplay for the target language.

These are just some of the challenges translation agencies face when translating British humor in marketing. A good translation agency can handle translating humor for marketing but it has to be determined first if the use of humor marketing is actually a good idea. In some cases, it might not be advisable at all because it can affect your market size and your reputation.

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