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The Squid Game Syndrome: What are the hidden costs of translation?

07th Feb 2022

Squid Game Syndrome: Watch out for the hidden costs of translation

Mélanie Chevalier, Founder & CEO of Creative Culture, tackles various misconceptions about translation, and shares tips to successfully adapt local copy in an article for Catalyst, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s member-only magazine. Catalyst features content that explores new thinking across key fields such as leadership, behavioural economics and sociology, from a global network of business leaders.

There is little chance you have escaped what is set to become Netflix’s best-ever performing series, K-drama Squid Game – a testimony to Netflix’s brilliant global-local PR and programming strategy. The streaming platform has been investing in foreign language programming since 2015 and spent $500m on Korean programmes alone in 2021. But with non-English language programmes comes a challenge: translation. It is no secret that part of Netflix’s recipe for success has been its ability to produce, license and distribute content at the speed of light to respond to consumers’ ever-growing needs for more content, right here, right now.

Many professionals in the language industry will agree that basing your content strategy on machine-led technology and tight deadlines is convenient, cheap and time-efficient. If, however, the ambition is to convey an authentic cultural and emotional experience for the viewer, then you may want to reconsider. Korean speaker Youngmi Mayer published a video on TikTok, which attracted nine million views, illustrating how non-Korean audiences will never get to enjoy the real Squid Game experience if they only watch its English version. More than words, translation is about brand and user experience.

What always strikes me is how this principle is so clear and evident when referring to media production and entertainment. Yet, at a corporate level, it doesn’t seem to register. When I started my career in global marketing in the early 2000s, a new term had emerged: transcreation. Created from the juxtaposition of ‘translation’ and ‘creation’, it was putting forward a new value proposition: the ability to localise not only words but creativity and cultural references.

But isn’t that what translation was supposed to achieve in the first place? To understand how traditional ‘translation’ can impact an organisation’s communications, let us consider exactly what translation is and what it is not.

Read the full article on Catalyst.

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