Advertising copy remains one of the most difficult things to translate.
In fact, when working with a slogan there is a long list of considerations.
The structure of an ad slogan is frequently vital. Capitalisation is often used deliberately, and maintaining that structure can be important and sometimes difficult depending on the target language. Slogans sometimes make use of deliberately short, punchy sentences as well, which can be a challenge to maintain when the target language lacks the ruthless efficiency of a language like, say, English. A phrase that is punchy and effective in four or five words in English can sometimes bloat to six or seven words in another language, stripping away the elegance and ‘punch’ of the original.
Slogans are also sometimes phrased specifically as questions, or as second-person ‘conversations’ in a sense – designed to imply interaction with the customer. These are also factors that have to be considered when translating them, starting with whether a question or second-person address would be considered appropriate in the target culture.
Aside from the nuts and bolts of maintaining the purpose and approach of a slogan, there are plenty of formatting issues which can be incredibly problematic from a high quality translation point of view. For example, what about a slogan that rhymes? Do you keep the translation literal (and probably lose the ‘zing’ they sought) or do you attempt to keep a rhyme in the target language by essentially re-casting the slogan? The former can be dull, the latter can be dangerous. And some languages are simply impossible to effectively rhyme in.
Of course, many slogans take the form of an idiom or common saying, often with a clever substitution or twist. Not only is the original idiom probably not easily translatable into the target language – idioms being notoriously location-specific – but even if the idiom itself can be successfully carried over, the clever bit that makes it an ad slogan almost certainly cannot be easily replicated.
This also occurs when puns and other wordplay are used in the slogan. Puns and wordplay are sometimes too subtle for native speakers to pick up on, and can usually not be easily translated!
Those of us who work in translation are not easily cowed and we accept these challenges on a regular basis, of course. But advertising, and especially that slippery bit called the slogan, remains one of the most difficult things to translate because it relies so heavily on implications and unspoken aspects of imagery. Next time you are annoyed by an ad for an overseas company while on a holiday in Spain, pause and consider the work that went into the Spanish translation!