Words to watch out for when going global.

31.08.23 | By Brianna Nixon | copywriting

Words to watch out for when going global.

Thongs and pants both mean undies somewhere. Read our guide on how to watch out for linguistic landmines when going global.

For Australian brands (or any brands) going global, words matter.

It's not just about avoiding the comical mishaps of mistranslations, but also steering clear of words that might not resonate well with audiences beyond Australia. As you broaden your horizons, here are some considerations to keep in mind.

Words to watch.

Certain words can cause confusion (or even offence) when marketing internationally. 

Thongs: While a thong might refer to footwear in Australia, it signifies something entirely different in other countries. For the US and UK, consider using "flip flops" instead.

Chips: It might mean hot chips or crisps depending on where you are. Make sure your context is clear.

Pants: To the Brits, this means underpants. Also known as knickers. Undies are a very Australian term, and Americans stick with plain old underwear. Not that their underwear is plain and old.

School grades and levels: These can differ greatly across countries. 

Mate, dude, and lad: These terms might not translate well or convey the same camaraderie in every cultural context.

Metric vs imperial units: While most of the world uses the metric system, a few countries still rely on imperial units (cough, Britain and The US, cough). When providing measurements, consider including both systems to cater to diverse audiences.

The culture of nuances.

Tourism Australia's famous slogan "So where the bloody hell are you?" was aimed at attracting tourists from the UK, Canada, and Singapore. However, its use of the word "bloody" led to a ban in the UK, "hell" resulted in a ban in Canada, and the phrase was altered to the more neutral "So where are you?" in Singapore. 

The attempt to convey Australia’s larrikin personality fell short, as it didn’t consider the context of where the language would be received. Not to mention the insinuating campaign for the Northern Territory, C U in the NT, which at least landed better with other Australian state’s audiences.

Tone matters.

Luckily, we have our very own case study for going global with language in mind: frank body

What started as a cheeky Australian brand has become a big global player in the beauty industry. Adapting the naughty, flirty, and sometimes quite dirty tone of voice to other audiences (namely the US), meant understanding where the line is. 

Suddenly the idea of going pantless isn’t just a cheeky joke, it’s an insult. Even seemingly innocuous terms like "cheeky" don’t land the same way overseas.

Keen on getting right? You can start by scrapping the word keen from your global lexicon.

Another close to home example, is our 2013 Willow & Blake twitter bio that read: “Some people cunt spell. We can.”

It got a lot of retweets and attention—mostly positive! But it isn't something we would necessarily push today, especially now that we have a wider US client base.

Spelling to watch.

Set your writing program to be British or English spelling and let the spell checker do the work. Going old school? Here are some examples of the most common differences in spelling for British/Australian English compared to American English. 

Colour = Color

Moisturise = Moisturize

Centre = Center

Travelling = Traveling

Remember that even though Canadians might sound closer to Americans, they’re part of the Commonwealth and use the Queen’s English.

Top tip: Write fave instead of favourite to avoid making multiple versions of the same marketing.

Navigating negativity.

Negative constructions can be tricky. "I cannot recommend this highly enough" might sound confusing to those skimming reviews, especially if English is their second (or third or fourth) language. 

Be careful of the phrase "I could care less". It’s a classic Americanism that signifies not caring, despite its literal meaning.

As your brand sets its sights on the global stage, remember that words wield immense power. They have the potential to charm, offend, or simply be lost in translation. 

By staying attuned to cultural sensitivities, embracing clarity, and fine-tuning your message, you can ensure that your brand's voice resonates harmoniously with audiences worldwide. Want to get it right? We can help.

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