Copywriting for Other Countries and Cultures

I received an interesting message the other day about some ideas on writing in other countries. Normally you think of “Western” copywriting - predominately American, Canadian and UK copywriting. English speaking readers are the typical target or niche, but what about readers in other nations in the world? China is poised to become the largest commercial market in the world if it’s not there already (I haven’t read the news yet this morning.) Isn't it time we consider writing for those and other audiences?

But, I Only Write in English!

I’ll be honest with you. My ability with second languages is nonexistent. I skated through Latin on vocabulary basics in high school, but I will not be joining the ranks of those are fluent in multiple languages. That doesn't mean, however, that I don’t need to consider other cultures when I write in my primary (and only) language.

English is the language of business in the world. What most of us do in our writing career is business. So it stands to reason that writing for other countries and cultures means learning more about the psychology, pop culture and behavioral norms of the country than the language – if you’re language-impaired like me. Of course if you’re fluent in a second language you already have a huge leg up as you can work in both languages, but that is not strictly required.

Common Behavioral Traits across Cultures

Psychologically speaking there are traits that are common across all human beings. For example, place a picture on a website with someone’s eyes looking to the left, and we will all instinctively follow the gaze to the left. Of course, the picture of the person will need to change for the different cultures to resonate with readers. Some cultures may respond to a man’s picture more than a woman’s. Others may respect an older individual over a younger or vice versa.

Generally speaking, active verb use is more effective than passive verb use in every culture, but some of the words we normally use in English text – the best, superior, top-of-the-line – are actually legally forbidden in China according to their Advertising Law. That would make a pretty big difference in how you’d write some hard sales copy.

Understanding Differences

The world of international or country-specific copywriting can be profitable as companies look to reach out to the developing markets, and emerging markets seek out what we are offering. Businesses will follow profits, but they must also follow the letter of the law as well as any cultural requirements to make landing pages, blogs and other world-wide marketing materials successful.

You may already have written materials for use in other countries. You might have done so knowingly or perhaps the client never considered it important to tell you where the text would be used or who it would be used for. This is the time to start asking – both for your use in writing and your future marketing purposes as well.

If you’re interested in pursuing the tremendous opportunities in this broad niche consider expanding you skills, and start with education. Read everything you can and work with marketers from these other countries to learn and actually see the differences in copywriting and marketing styles for yourself. Visiting international websites and business forums. Learn, practice and grow. Then market yourself to those looking for a more global outreach and develop that niche as well. It stands to reason that as globalization continues, this niche will grow along with it.

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