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Translating the concept of empowerment in beauty

Empowerment marketing took the world of advertising by storm when, instead of simply pointing out inadequacy to create a need for a product, it showed that we can sell that same product in ways that make us better people and the world a better place.

Most areas of business quickly joined the growing movement and beauty is no exception.  Empowerment-related vocabulary has seeped into the brand communications of many cosmetic companies, at least in English.

Just in the last few months, we’ve had to translate copy for products such as:

  • eyeshadows with “empowering shades”, created by makeup artists inspired by a “new generation of empowered women”;
  • hair dryers “packed with hair-empowering design duality”;
  • skincare touting its radical new approach to help “empower the skin”;
  • lip color that promises its wearer to “reveal who she truly is – an empowered girlfriend living a life full of happiness, love & success on her own terms”;
  • and brow enhancers that “empower her to become the woman she was meant to be” …

These are just a few examples of how decisively “empowerment” has become part of the beauty landscape.

Culturally, most languages have yet to adopt a single term for so many different contexts, a single term serving as a beacon of hope, a call to action to take control and surpass one’s own expectations – a push button of sorts that can be used to elicit a sense of feel-good transcendence.

In French, for example, there truly is no easy way to translate the above messages with a single term that would carry the same weight as “empowerment” in English.  Mademoizelle online may be promoting the use of “empouvoirement” but, for now, the term does not have the same rooted presence in the French language.  It is also nearly impossible to apply without raising eyebrows…

What translators are forced to do is resort to paraphrasing, which in and of itself is exactly what they must do.  The one thing they should not do, however, is ignore the importance that this term and this concept hold for American brands.

It can be argued that translating / transcreating beauty copy also requires an equal measure of localization to the target audience, which may or may not harbor the same level of concern for underscoring the possibility for human growth, for a woman’s right to live her life to the fullest and to feel strong and independent.

But as a translator you cannot skip over, blithely ignore or wish this part of the message away – especially when it reflects brand values and identity.  We must remember that exposure to foreign values and new ideas can be enriching and mind-opening even when buying hair gel (and why not?)!

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Human vs Google Translation

A word of caution against Google Translate!

Technology is a beautiful thing and in business it has become a game-changer: countless apps, widgets, programs and systems are now available to business people to make their work easier and more efficient.

Non-translators tend to spontaneously think of Google Translate when relating technology to translation.

Google Translate’s automatic translations may seem useful because they give internet users a general understanding of something written in a foreign language (e.g. when casually scanning the internet for information).

However, Google Translate should never be relied upon to generate meaningful and printable content.  Not even to make what seems like minor changes to a previously translated text.

To illustrate just how badly it can fail us, we’ve used an example of a text readily available from the French language website of the fashion and cosmetics powerhouse Chanel:

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and its English language version translated by a human:

 

english-language-clipping

We submitted the original French copy of this text to Google Translate and compared the results to the human translation.

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It is quite noteworthy to point out that although the text was very short (50 to 75 words), Google Translate produced three completely nonsensical sentences:

  • His escalation of tensions” instead of “Facial tension slips away”;
  • Her muslin cotton soaked in warm water gently exfoliates and perfect cleaning” for what should have said “Moistened with warm water, its cotton cloth gently exfoliates and removes all traces of makeup”;
  • The header “Benefits” was translated by “Earnings”.

Of course, the problems do not end there.  We also have:

  • a sentence missing a verb,
  • a whole slew of rather awkwardly strung words,
  • not to mention the fact that the product name (“Essential Comfort Cleanser”) was translated in two different ways (“Supreme Comfort Cleansing” and “Supreme Cleansing Comfort”).

So please, heed our warning: avoid the temptation of turning to Google Translate for any type of translation, no matter how insignificant. If changes are made to a document we have previously translated, we will be happy to go over them and make the necessary adjustments.

Back to (Beauty) School: New Beauty Terms

New beauty trends are popping up on the Internet daily, making it so hard to keep up! So, let’s try to make sense of some of them…

This week’s beauty term is:

Root Stamping

Mascara makes your lashes thicker and longer. However, there is a trick that could make them appear even fuller — and make your eyes look wider!  This is called root stamping and is the technique of using your mascara wand to gently press or “stamp” the root of your lashes. Stamping at the root flares the lashes upward and makes them look thicker and fuller at the base, for astounding eyes!

Go to thebeautydepartment.com for step-by-step instructions!

Did You Know?

The Bulgari connection 2Italian jewelry and perfume maker Bulgari was one of the first companies to sponsor a fictomercial, the 2001 novel by British writer Fey Weldon entitled “The Bulgari Connection”.

A portmanteau word combining fiction and commercial, a fictomercial is a book, tv show or any other piece of creative writing in which a company pays the writer to incorporate its products into the story.  It is part of a trend to use non-traditional ways to promote products and has become a burgeoning business for writers over the last fifteen years.

Why?  Because advertisers are always looking to make people see things in different ways.  They like to take existing concept in new directions, making up new words along the way (like fictomercial, advertorial, jeggings or masstige).

As a side note, fictomercials are referred to as “publifiction” in French.