When does localization become capitulation?

I begin this post with a question because I don’t have an answer.

A book making news these days is The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. It’s about Hollywood’s active self-censorship to appease German censors during Hitler’s reign.

According to the book, movies critical of the Nazi regime were killed because they would have threatened all Hollywood exports into Germany at the time.

According to this NY Post piece, Hollywood is making the same sort of deal with the devil with China.

Changing plot lines, adding characters and scenes, changing the “bad guys” from  Chinese to Russian — all to appease Chinese censors.

China is very careful about what movies it allows in its large and lucrative  market. And this gatekeeper role gives it enormous power over Hollywood.

Which leads me to the question at hand: At what point does localization become capitulation?

This is question every company must ask itself when trying to expand into new markets and cultures.

A Hollywood studio would no doubt argue that it is simply localizing its product to comply with local laws and to succeed with customers.

Which means that Hollywood may end up one day localizing the “bad guys” for each market it enters.

Is this a bad thing? Or is this just good business?

Localization is, after all, about adapting to the market.

I do believe there is a line there, somewhere, that you shouldn’t cross.

When you find that you’re changing who you are to adapt to a market, you should pause to understand exactly what you are changing, exactly what you are sacrificing.

As for Hollywood “selling its soul” to succeed in China I would ask: What soul was there to sell? 

But in all seriousness, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Companies are  desperate to succeed in markets around the world — markets where they may indeed be asked or required to do things they don’t want to do.

I think of Mean Girls and the lengths that Lindsay Lohan’s character went in order to fit in. (Yes, all the great business issues of the world have been addressed by high school movies.)

And then I think of a quote I from the former CEO of Starbucks:

On a country-by-country basis, the largest hurdle we had to overcome was thinking we had to be different.




Transcreation is here to stay

In 2005, I wrote transcreation is gaining momentum.

I predicted that we’d see a lot more use of this word in the years ahead. Why? Because “translation sounds like a commodity; transcreation sounds like a service.”

So here we are in 2013 and a Google search on Transcreation brings up 392,000 results.

Translators often cringe when hearing this word. And I have often felt the urge to do the same because, frankly, good translators and translation agencies have been providing this service all along.

The idea that literal, word-for-word translation is the only service provided by translators is simply wrong, and to some extent propagated by a translation industry built upon stressing quality (as in literal translation) over more marketing-oriented translation.

So now we have a number of marketing firms and advertising agencies who use this term quite liberally to promote their unique brand of translation services. Here is a screen grab from the website of Hogarth:

Hogarth and Transcreation

By the way, Hogarth is looking to hire a Transcreation Account Manager to “manage the transcreation and production of advertising for major global brands.” Here is the link.

Transcreation is here to stay.

Localization in China

I am pleased to have been invited by John Yunker to contribute thoughts on the localization industry in China. I welcome your comments and suggestions for future articles. Here’s my first posting –

Four years ago, I was working for a localization company in Shanghai. One day, I received a phone call from a woman who said: “I read your advertisement about localization services. We’ve just moved to Shanghai and I was wondering if you could help find a baby-sitter for us.” This may sound like a strange request, but it was not that unusual back then.

Fortunately, times have changed, and quickly. China has become one of the most important regional markets in the world for multinational corporations:

  • 470 of the Fortune 500 companies have invested in China;
  • 750+ multinational companies, including Microsoft, Intel, GE, and Motorola have established R&D centers in China;
  • In 2006, 144 multinational companies chose Shanghai as their Asia-Pacific regional headquarters, while 36 chose Beijing. These numbers are certain to grow.

And then there are the 210 million Internet users in China, according to CNNIC, making the country an alluring market for any Web-based service or application.

However, Chinese Web users have proven to be very selective when choosing news, ecommerce, and networking products. More often than not, they are choosing home-grown products. For example:

  • Despite Google’s best efforts thus far, Baidu is still the number one search engine in China.
  • Sina, Sohu, and Netease remain the three biggest news portals in this market, and not Yahoo! China.
  • QQ is an IM tool developed by Tencent, a local company. It now has 160 million registered users and 50 million active users, greatly outnumbering the users of Yahoo Massager, MSN, and Google Talk.
  • Although MySpace has been successful in the States, it seems that Chinese people are more interested in local social networking sites, such as Mop and Tianya.

These few examples demonstrate the significant challenges that companies face when localizing for China. There are cultural, financial, and lingustic obstacle to overcome — many of which I plan to address in more detail in future articles.