How Does Regional Language Affect Marketing?

by | Sep 4, 2021 | Business

It’s really no big secret that language matters. The language we use in everyday life has immense power, and there are many opportunities to wield its power in different ways.

In marketing, words have one goal. Whether you are touting a product, service, or combination of the two, your ultimate goal in advertising is to convince clients to purchase what you’re selling. However, many companies fail to consider how the language they use might be working against them rather than for them.

International Communications

Failing to use regionally specific language, often coined “localization,” is one of the ways that companies neglect the full potential to their advantage. With today’s global market being what it is, losing the specificity of your market lessens the impact of your campaigns. Refocusing your language is a major way to make a greater impression with your content.

In fact, research shows that when an individual can’t understand an ad, they almost never buy the product. Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately, for many companies, failing to create ads in local languages leaves them with a significant hole in their customer base.

More Than Translation

The fix for the international language barrier is not Google translate. While the app can help you buy lunch from a Polish street vendor, it falls short on some of the more intricate parts of marketing language. You may have a perfectly clever bit of copy written for you in English, but once Google Translate spins it into Chinese, it’s often simply nonsense.

So what’s the solution? Hire people. If you are looking to break into international markets, be ready to hire a bilingual local copywriter or marketing expert to help you alter your ads. They’ll likely be able to create new, translated copy fairly quickly (depending on what you’re looking for), and it will be much more impactful in their area than yours would have been.

Language Faux-Pas

Another consideration should be the fact that you don’t necessarily know the connotation of certain words when they are found in other countries. Many English words are used in different ways in English-speaking countries around the world. For example, if Levi’s puts out an ad talking about their new gender-neutral pants, they’re talking about something very different in the UK markets than they are in the US ones.

Though this is a fairly common example, it’s important to know that thousands of words are this way. Many times, English words are downright curse words in other countries. Other times, different languages’ words are used completely differently here than in their native countries. For example, the word “matador” has the connotation of a suave, bullfighting Spanish hero, while in Spain, it actually means “killer.”

You never know who you could be alienating or offending with your copy unless you have a bilingual or native marketing consultant.

Remember, this doesn’t just apply to international markets. Regions of the United States all have different vernacular. A customer in the south will not respond the same way to ad copy as a customer in the northeast. You may not always be translating copy to other languages, but you can translate it into local dialects that help to maximize impact.

Local Flavor

This may beg the question, “can’t I just hire a bilingual (or regionally-specific) expert in my own area?” and the answer is, yes, you could. Hiring a Spanish-speaking copywriter to create your Peruvian ads would technically work.

However, you have to consider the local expert’s background. Are they from the area you are marketing to, or do they just speak the language? More times than not, marketing experts from the target countries can bring in a level of expertise that can’t be found anywhere else. Sure, a local professional can certainly do their research, but that leads to a whole other can of worms.

Perception Of Culture

Many times, marketers do some sort of research before sending a campaign out into the world, especially if it’s tailored to a local audience. In fact, this is what many ad companies do before they send out their campaigns. While this might be sufficient in some cases, in many situations, the result can be kind of…. disappointing. Consider your hometown and what you love about it. Now consider what it’s known for. An out-of-town marketing specialist is more likely to create an ad about what your town is known for rather than what makes it special to the people living there.

On the other hand, if you are walking through your hometown and see an ad that centers around the true nature of where you live, aren’t you more likely to respond?

Being seen and understood is a basic human need, and all too often, ads miss the mark on understanding the regional quirks and eccentricities that are important to the people who live there. Paying more attention to them can boost how well an ad does.

Cities vs. Towns vs. Regions

Of course, you can’t always create new ad copy for every single location of your ad. In some cases, it makes sense to create regionally specific ads rather than city-specific ones. In the United States, for example, you can theoretically lump the south, east, west, and midwest into four different marketing categories. Even better, you could lump three or four states together to be more specific with your target. Generally speaking, the more precise your ad is, the more effective it will be.

A Catch-22

Like most things in life, this method has a bit of a flip side. At some point, you have to consider if getting specific will end up alienating viewers. Though you may post an ad in the south, not everyone who sees it will be native southerners. You do run the risk of losing customers to being too specific.

This often comes to play with website copy and email lists. Small and local businesses can really thrive by focusing on small markets. Using regional language on their websites often increases their charm, and locals become attached because the business feels genuine to them.

However, this same copy may dissuade a tourist or visitor from stopping in. If they are too confused by the local flavor, they might look for a competitor that feels “safer” to them.

Ultimately, there is not much that can be done about this, but it is helpful to keep in mind as you are creating your marketing plan.

Do Your Research

What’s the bottom line here? Do your research. Ideally, that research will lead you to a copywriting company or marketing firm that can consult and give you local advice. However, if that isn’t in the cards, Google can be a good backup. It is ultimately better to risk being regionally cliche than have audiences feel disconnected from your copy. At least if you end up going off of a stereotype, your clients will see that you made an effort to tailor your information to them rather than running with boring, basic copy.

Despite the fact that our world is more interconnected than ever (thanks, internet), the basic truth of humanity has remained unchanged: we want to be understood. It’s easy to see customers as statistics and conversion rates, but ultimately, we are not marketing to robots; we’re marketing to people. Infusing a bit of individuality, specificity, and humanity into our copy can only help.


Gabby Vandenavond