Selling Cars with Sex and Lies

On the back of looking at translating film titles, I thought that it would make sense to stick close by and have a look at another massive area for translation: advertising.

Here is an area that epitomises certain aspects of translation while, at least in the example I want to look at, often involving very little actual translation. Similarly to film titling, the key concern is to catch the attention of the target audience, whose hugely different cultural settings, social statuses and ideological viewpoints mean that wholesale changes are usually necessary.

Rather than picking up on translation disasters in marketing (maybe something like the introduction of sling rucksacks in German as Body Bags…), the example I wanted to use is actually quite successful and is useful in that it clearly shows how far a brand will tailor its marketing in an attempt to appeal to their desired audience.


All of the clips are recent adverts from renowned Italian car manufacturer Fiat, well known for their long history and tradition in Italian culture, and it is this sense of tradition that they have often looked to build upon in the past in their marketing, with the typical UK advert highlighting the Italian tradition behind the cars. This was also replicated in their domestic marketing strategy, with Italian Fiat adverts equating to patriotic celebrations of cultural tradition and of the company itself (this being an extremely apt example:

However, more recently, the marketing has become much more diverse based upon the shifting needs of their target audiences; even strategies at home in Italy have moved beyond patriotism and onto new, English-inspired advertising and this is seemingly due to conscious changes in their image following a global alliance with Chrysler in January 2009 and in order to compete with other companies such as Renault whose Italian adverts consistently boast the attraction of cool English slogans.

The transitional period that ensued from these changes can be seen in this Italian Fiat Panda advert which twins the images of Italian tradition with an English tagline, and the transformation is eventually fully realised in the advert for the Fiat 500L (below), which focuses on English words throughout and has a cover of a Beatles classic as the soundtrack to show the car maker’s newly expanded roots, all while ignoring ideas of heritage, tradition and Italian-ness all together.

Indeed, the different marketing strategies of the 500L prove to be fascinating all around the world, with stark contrasts to be found even within cultures of the same language.

While the car is marketed as an English-inspired family car in Italy, the UK advert markets it specifically as a car for mums, and as this article from the Guardian notes, the advert doesn’t actually show much of the car or say anything about its maker, it’s just left for the viewer to assume that if their lifestyle resembles that of the mother in the advert, then this car is for them.

Meanwhile, when marketed to a US audience, the car is consistently sexed up in a manner similar to the treatment of film titles going from English to French and Italian shown in the last blog. In the past, various adverts have shown that this sexing up can be done in a more or less brash fashion: the FIAT 500 Abarth USA ‘Seduction’ ad manages to sex up the car while retaining ideas of Italian tradition, yet the 500L adverts presented at the 2012 LA Auto Show just focus on a sexy theme and say nothing at all about the car, with the only hint of its roots coming from the soundtrack which, in the ‘Date’ advert in particular, seems to be just Italian gibberish used to give a hint of the international…

The important thing to bear in mind here is that the audience of these latter adverts – people at the LA Auto Show –  is likely to be made up of young, male, car-enthusiasts and so the branding has to be made to appeal to them despite the fact that the car is shown everywhere else to be directed at an entirely different market. And what’s the best way to catch the attention of young men..?

In the end, in order to attract the largest audiences, it seems that the key to translational success in another huge area can once again be summed up as ‘dumb it down, sex it up’, and this should surprise nobody.


2 responses to “Selling Cars with Sex and Lies”

  1. […] The Power of Translation: The Fox and the Grapes Selling Cars with Sex and Lies […]

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