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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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Translation Quotes Explained: Anthony Burgess

 

 

 

Anthony Burgess, the prolific British novelist, composer, librettist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, translator and critic, who is best remembered for his novel “A Clockwork Orange,” once said:

 

“Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.”

What we take away from this is that translation goes far beyond the transfer of meaning (never mind the simplistic idea of “switching” words between languages).  In its broadest form, it involves bridging two cultures; in marketing more specifically, it is about making the corporate culture of a business comprehensible to another, culturally-distinct audience that is different from the brand’s intended, original target.

Beautyterm Interview by PRIMERTBR

Do you want to know more about Beautyterm? Why and how the company came into existence? Why is translation and localization important to building brand awareness? How does globalization, research and development, and advertising impact the role of the translator?

Click on this link and read the PRIMERTBR interview with Beautyterm founder Agnes Meilhac to get your answers!

Primer is an industry publication addressing and analyzing public policy and business topics defining the future of the beauty industry.

PRIMERTBR Interview with Beautyterm April 2015

PRIMERTBR Interview with Beautyterm April 2015

A Question of “Intolerance”

Avene intolerantI recently had a very interesting email exchange with a translation student who contacted me about a terminology question.  The issue at hand was the idea of “intolerant skin” coming as a direct calque from the French “peau intolerante.”

While it is true that the term exists in English mainly in conjunction with cosmetic products made by French companies (Avene, La Roche Posay, Darphin, etc.), its existence raises a fascinating dilemma of terminological innovation in the beauty industry.

A native English speaker would cringe at the thought of saying “intolerant skin”, which does not seem like a “natural” choice in English because of lack of widespread usage in this context.  He or she would conclude that the more accurate term would be “hypersensitive skin” and thus translate “peau intolerante” accordingly.

However, French cosmetics companies are “trendsetters” using marketing strategy and lexicological innovation to differentiate their products on a highly saturated market. They need to make their products distinct and one-of-a-kind in order for consumers to be drawn to buy them; one of the ways to do that is to establish new distinctions between different types of skin.

intolerantskin

French marketers have thus at some point made the conscious decision to use the term “intolerant skin” in English in order to emphasize the idea of their products as being highly targeted and specifically designed to meet a very particular need.

Guerlain-SOS-Serum-for-Sensitive-and-Intolerant-SkinTheir choice was also part of a trend to “medicalize” products to give them what some consumers will perceive as the “scientific” seal of approval. In fact, “cutaneous intolerance” or “skin intolerance” is really more of a medical notion (e.g. cutaneous intolerance to wool clothing as a typical feature of atopic dermatitis) so what we have here is an example of terminological transfer between two fields.