Cross-Cultural Slogans

Belgium is a trilingual country, with conflicting Wallonia and Flanders and a tiny German-speaking minority (too small to be in conflict with anyone).

Hence, Brussels’ train stations offer many examples of translations, as advertising and announcements have to be replicated in French, German and Dutch, and even in English on some occasions.

One instance struck me on one of my first visits.

It was an advertisement for a savings account in both Dutch and French, yielding a 4% interest rate. While the French one read a playful ‘A un de ces quatre !’, the Dutch version relished in its own simplicity and just boasted ‘Vier procent.’ (Four percent)

Here, punctuation was just as expressive – and deliberate – as the word choice: the French version chose to give an unexpected twist to a colloquial phrase, establishing a relationship of complicity with viewers – ‘A un de ces quatre’ is a way of saying goodbye, the equivalent of ‘See you round’, and ends on a dynamic exclamation mark. Furthermore, it implies that the benefit is guaranteed: see you next time, when you come to collect your four percent of profit.

The Dutch version, on the other way, does not even bother to tout the product. It merely informs viewers of the product’s strong point and its full stop seems to assert ‘Need we say more?’

Both versions are a fine instance of localization, i.e. adapting one’s message to a specific audience. I could not help but wonder how these differences would play for another audience, say the British market and the North American market. What kind of appeal would copywriters have to emphasise, which horn would they have to blow to entice viewers to get those four percent ?

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