Right Brain, Left Brain Blog

65 posts categorized "Culture Shocks"

10 July 2014

“Make Me Beautiful” – Creative Translation of Female Beauty Hits Social Media

The News:

One woman’s personal exploration into global perceptions of beauty was doing the rounds on social media last week.  Ester Honig, a freelance American journalist, sent an image of herself to graphic designers in 25 different countries, with a simple brief: “make me beautiful”. The outcome of the creative translation experiment is an intriguing series of before and after photographs, documenting the designers’ digital permutations. Localisations of beauty differed vastly, with some even altering eye colour and skin tone.

Make me Beautiful - image

Behind the News:

The cosmopolitan images highlight that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, although local market and cultural influences are undeniable – an important reality for any multimarket brand that chooses to translate its advertising. A Philippines entry dressed Honig in smart clothes and added a colourful background, but made minimal changes to her face and hair. Bulgaria gave her blue eyes; India took away her collarbones and gave her a darker complexion and thicker eyebrows. The Moroccan adaptation put Honig in a hijab and gave her smoky eye make-up.

The media tends to represent an aspirational ideal of beauty; a kind of perfection that is elusive, and something to strive for. Honig’s project highlights that there is no universal standard for the beauty ideal, suggesting that advertising agencies developing international beauty campaigns will be more successful to consider not only transcreation of copy to local tastes but also the cultural relevance of visuals. In an interview with InStyle Magazine, Honig says: “when we compare unobtainable standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all that more elusive. It almost neutralizes the belief in a universal beauty.”

The iconic Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was built around this very notion: the campaign features ordinary women of all shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds, representing beauty in all its forms. Truly innovative when it was launched, the campaign challenged beauty stereotypes and is today still one of the only cosmetics brands questioning the definition of female beauty.  Instead of espousing an unattainable ideal, the Campaign for Real Beauty reflects reality – a beauty which is personal, subjective and diverse.

Like the Dove campaign, the “make me beautiful” project is an artful reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all: what’s desirable to some could be off-putting to others. It all depends on who you talk to, where they come from and what core brand values you want to convey to local customers.

25 June 2014

Impossible to Translate Words into Images? How an Obsessive Blockbuster French Director Proved Hollywood Wrong…

TS Spivet - Image

The News

The film adaptation of Reif Larson’s 2009 novel, The Selected Works of TS Spivet, was released in cinemas on Friday, 13 June. This is somewhat remarkable, considering that the book was initially deemed “unfilmable”. In a recent interview in the Guardian, Larson explains that, despite a flurry of initial interest from Hollywood agents, the book was too challenging to adapt for cinema. So when he unexpectedly received an e-mail from the filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Amélie fame), he was astonished. Jeunet wrote that he was “smitten” with the novel and wanted to make the film. Thus began the intricate process of translating the novel; by rearranging sequences, adapting characters and re-ordering scenes, Jeunet deconstructed the book piece-by-piece to re-create the story.

Behind the news

Adapting a novel to film is a bit like transcreating an advertisement into a foreign language: it needs to be re-crafted with a different mindset. For a film, it is not enough to simply lift dialogue from the novel and drop it into a script – such literal translation merely results in a dramatisation of the book. In a novel, narrative is used to convey characters’ thoughts and feelings; in a film, the challenge is to translate the interior of a novel into scenes using visual tools and cinematic techniques – acting, lighting, photography, soundtrack, etc. – this is the language of film. Books can tell, but films have to show.

Beyond translating the book into the language of film, there needs to be artistic synergy between the book author and film director. In the interview, Larson speaks of his admiration for Jeunet and “having the distinct sensation that somehow this director had crawled inside [his] head”. He later says that “Jeunet’s way of seeing was embedded into the DNA of Spivet”. Thus, it is no coincidence that Jeunet approached Larson: the two were able to relate to each other artistically, drawn together by a sense of familiarity “bound not by blood but by aesthetic sensibility”.

In order for a film to retain the original meaning of the book, it must capture the essence and spirit of the story. This is echoed in Larson’s sentiment that he wanted Jeunet to “look beyond the bounds of the text to get at the ‘essential spirit’ of [his] book”. Recognising that books and films are two distinct forms of storytelling, Larson wanted the director to be faithful to his work, but ultimately to create a new story, not just reproduce the original in a different medium.

Whether Jeunet achieved this is up to the readers and viewers to decide. From Larson’s part, he felt “a sense of familiarity” but also some detachment while watching the film, realising that the story was no longer his alone.



24 June 2014

Most Global Campaign Ever? Soccer Fever Transcreated...


For the next month, football fans around the world will be united in World Cup fervour, a collective frenzy ranging from pure elation to inconsolable rage and quiet disappointment. International events such as the World Cup present the perfect opportunity for global brands to appeal to customers in their local market based around one global concept. Which is exactly what Coca-Cola has done with its anthem “the World is Ours”.

Coca-cola world cup brazil pic

The song is the anchor for Coca-Cola’s World Cup campaign – the brand’s largest campaign ever, covering 85% of its markets (175 out of 207 local markets). The brand chose David Correy, a Brazilian-American X-Factor contestant, to perform the main song. Coca-Cola has adapted the song for local markets, working with local artists and translators to create 32 country-specific versions.

Behind the News

In today’s globalised world, culture, brand and identity are becoming increasingly homogenous: from Maputo to New York iconic brands such as Coca-Cola are instantly recognisable; football fans are equally as excited about the World Cup in Lima as they are in Amsterdam. It’s everybody’s drink, everybody’s game. Everybody’s world. This is the lynchpin of Coca-Cola’s World Cup campaign – the idea of a shared global culture.

At the same time, there is a counter-trend towards localisation. National identity still counts, local customs are important and language matters. Localised campaigns encourage greater brand interaction and engagement, as they are given relevance and meaning. Customers can better relate to a campaign if the theme song is in their own language, the humour resonates with theirs and local nuances are accounted for. A localisation campaign is successful when customers feel a true connection with the brand.  

Through its World Cup campaign, Coca-Cola is attempting to do exactly that. The “World is Ours” is hinged on an overarching idea of a shared global identity, embodied by the World Cup: thirty two teams gather together from everywhere to play one game, and follow one set of rules. Yet each of those teams is unique and different. It’s a global strategy focusing on local identity. 

Coca-cola has not just directly transplanted the campaign to local markets; by using local artists, trans-creation and interpretation, the brand has lent authenticity to the campaign through cultural adaptation. 

30 May 2014

The 10 most complained about ads of 2013

Not all advertising suits everyone’s tastes. Of course, the fact that the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) received a whopping 31,136 complaints in 2013 about 18,580 ads, says enough.

Among the top 10 most complained about ads of last year, according to ASA’s 2013 report, were three Unilever products (go Unilever, you daredevil you!). Here’s that top 10 in its all its glory…  

1. VIP Electronic Cigarette – “She Wants You”
Total complaints: 937
Was it banned? Upheld in part


Continue reading "The 10 most complained about ads of 2013" »

17 December 2013

Elle Crosses the 38th Parallel

In mid-2012, a North Korean army minister named Kim Chol was reportedly ‘obliterated’ with a mortar round, on the orders of leader Kim Jong-un, for ‘disrespectful behaviour’.

The news was only one rivulet in a stream of concerned rumour winding out of the isolationist Communist state, where reports of disappearances, poverty, summary executions and starvation form a complimentary backdrop to the Kim dynasty’s cult of personality.

For the outside world, most of these atrocities are symbolised by an overwhelming wave of moss-green nylon, gold medals and red stars, the uniform of the North Korea People’s Army and the epitome of the iron fastness that the country’s rulers lock around their own subjects.

However, Elle Magazine has seen something of worth in the iconic attire, featuring it in a recent online piece as ‘North Korea Chic’. The magazine informed its readers that “some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it’s edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.”  The piece included the image of a single gold stiletto poised next to a North Korean soldier at attention.

Elle - North Korea

The piece has prompted outcry from journalists and human-rights groups, who believe that the pieces trivialise the current abuses of the North Korean military complex, as well as having little respect for the people suffering under such a regime. The magazine apologised quickly and replaced the spread with a ‘Naval’ shoot, retaining the majuscule ‘N’, though not before drawing attention to the long, concomitant relationship between the military and the fashion world.

Elle is not incorrect in their point; tropes of military uniform such as gold buttons, braiding, epaulettes and camouflage continually resurface in the industry’s undulating tastes, and the importance of aesthetic impression to commanding respect and power has never been lost on the canniest designers; for instance Valentin Yudashkin designed new kit for the Russian Army only a few years ago.

However, the issue here seems to be the perceived lack of cross-cultural awareness that the magazine is exhibiting, and an absence of empathy for the ordinary people of North Korea, especially in light of recent revelations about the extent of the regime’s crimes, including the imprisonment of children in torture camps, and the execution of twelve high-profile performers for a variety of offences, including the possession of a bible.

More than most types of Advertising in Fashion, have long employed imagery that has been considered insensitive or controversial; Vogue magazine was once criticised for a shoot involving extremely expensive pieces of jewellery and clothing modelled on some of the poorest people in India, prompting accusations that the magazine was treating this demographic as little more than objects.

These publications exist at a fascinating cross-section of art and commerce, one in which a strong aesthetic ideal, perhaps considered very beautiful and thought-provoking, is paired with a strong sense of commercialism and a competitive need to sell seasonal styles.

The immediate withdrawal and apology by Elle showed a willingness to accept that a mistake had been made, and that the crossed line is now clearly marked.


23 August 2013

Part 1 – Loan Rangers: Borrowing Words from Abroad

Shitstorm in German dictionary
 Of the 5,000 new words that feature in the latest edition of the German equivalent of the OED – the Duden – one has raised a few more eyebrows than the rest. It’s an Anglicism, or a loan word from the English language, that has gained intriguing popularity in the German-speaking world, even appearing on the lips of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The word is Shitstorm, and means in German roughly what it means in English.

Continue reading "Part 1 – Loan Rangers: Borrowing Words from Abroad " »

28 May 2013



We have already talked about how lightly brands need to tread in a world where everyone is watching, where companies have unprecedented access not only to an enormous raft of potential consumers, but also to the ever-vigilant eyes of potential critics. "Trial by Twitter" is a process that has found many brands guilty, and unfortunate gaffes are never far from mind. Take Waitrose's social media misfire last autumn, where its "Reasons" campaign was hijacked and turned on its head by teasing tweeters. Rather than issuing an apology as such, they did feel they had to acknowledge the jocular nature of people's reactions. Other brands to have faced similar cyber-ribbing have reacted in various ways, either by adopting a similarly rebald tone, or by going on an unrepretant offensive, as this blog post discusses. And we can't forget the reaction to Nick Clegg's apology video, which went viral last year and totally undermined his attempt to clear the air with the British electorate. 

People around the world apologise in different ways. In Japan, the act of apologising is considered a virtue (more on this later). It is no surprise, therefore, that their language and culture have such a diffuse number of ways to express the sentiment of sorriness. The same cannot always be said of the West, where people can often be found saving face by issuing 'apologies' that are entirely devoid of any sincerity or meaning. Or the classic British reflex-action apology, where "sorry" is used so unsparingly that it is roughly akin to "hmmm". 

Whatever the 'right' approach, there can be little doubt that the apology is an important art when errors in communication are so easy and public. And things only get more complicated when that apology has to be made across cultures, where different conventions, traditions and politics, not to mention different languages, are at play. Last week, Apple found themselves issuing a public apology to their Chinese customers following criticism from state media outlets about the company's warranty terms. The apology received extensive news coverage across the country, to the bewilderment of many Chinese people, who found the authorities' glee at events of somewhat baffling compared to the varitable silence over more significant matters of public interest. What was perhaps most interesting about Apple's apology was the way it was worded - "At the same time," they said, "we also realise that we have much to learn about operating in China, and how we communicate here." In this knowledge, a comprehensive global communication audit might have saved any embarrassment, taking advantage of local expertise and insight to achieve a "finger on the pulse" - essential for survival in the modern technology jungle. 

As we've already mentioned, the cross-cultural apology is a complicated process due to the linguistic, political and cultural considerations that need to be taken on board. Indeed, an episode at the end of 2012 shows the extent of the complications in China, with the reporting of an "apology" made by the new Leader of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping. When arriving late for a speech, he made a comment which literally translates as "made everyone wait a long time". Does this mean "sorry"? According to the presiding English interpreter, it did. Later on, however, opinion was divided among observers, with some objecting to translations from various international media outlets that played up the "sorry" aspect, while others felt the literal translation - with its more unrepentant connotations - was appropriate. 

An extreme exxample of how cultural conventions can differ cme with the public apology offered by Japanese popstar Minami Minegishi following revelations that she had spent the night with her boyfriend. She appeared with a shaved head, begging the public for forgiveness in a traditional act of contrition. 

There is no escaping the fact that, were the divas of Europe or the US to so flail themselves for such minor misdemeanours, the blogosphere would be utterly saturated. Yes, it might have been over the top and unccessary, but it was also on some level based on cultural tradition. 

These examples show the challenges faced by brands operating internationally, and the need for expert, sensitive cross-cultural communications strategies. Saying sorry is never easy. Saying sorry across a cultural divide is even harder...

14 March 2013

Core Values in a World Where Everyone’s Watching

A brand’s reputation hangs on the success with which it projects and maintains its core values, providing consistent quality and a unified image that is at once universal and culturally relevant. So in a world as instant, integrated and interconnected as ours, how feasible is it for international brands to stay in complete control of their identity, protecting themselves from being compromised by actions beyond their control? All it takes is for one user-uploaded photo to go viral, or an unvetted decision in a regional market, for a brand to lose a grip on its image.

Take the example of some mannequins in an Adidas window display in Russia during an LGBT-rights demonstration, which were reconfigured to mimic Nazi salutes. It would appear that this was done by staff members in support of the violent, far-right faction who were opposing the march and attacking activists under the seemingly indifferent eyes of onlooking police. As the author of this New York Times article states, “what are Western companies to do when a country’s culture becomes so toxic that even situating a clothing-retail store there can implicate the company in violent ideology and in violence itself?” Demands were made by a US-based human rights organisation in an open letter to Adidas HQ about the sorts of conditions that are imposed on their authorised dealers around the world in such circumstances. But while it is possible to train staff and monitor activity and conduct closely, can anything be done to prevent the deleterious effects of a few hapless individuals on the ground?

Saudi Arabia Ikea catalogue pic
A similarly unfortunate intervention affected Ikea last year, when it was revealed that the Saudi Arabian version of their catalogue had been manipulated to exclude women. This is a brand that promotes inclusivity, harmony and fairness, so much so that it is prepared to speak out radically on behalf of the gay marriage lobby in Italy, so why on earth is it marginalising female identity in the Arab peninsula with the stroke of the airbrush? The brand’s official response blamed a third-party franchise for the creation of the catalogue, apologising for not monitoring the production of this catalogue more closely, especially when it so contravenes the “group’s values”. Whatever the situation, surely here we are seeing the complications of maintaining a tolerant universal identity while simultaneously appealing to a local market whose values are themselves intolerant towards the representation of women?

Google cite transparency as one of their core values, and publish a biannual transparency report detailing search traffic, removal requests and user data requests. However, there have been reports that a Google censorship notification feature in operation in China – aimed at alerting users to potential government-backed service disruption for certain search terms – has been disabled on the quiet. This is arguably an act of ensuring search quality and efficiency, which had been compromised by government censorship, but it does also go against the brand’s pledge for transparency in a region where freedom of speech is so delicate. How can a brand maintain all its integrity when trying to operate at an optimal level in a country where its core values are not shared?

In the past, controversy has been something that has been courted deliberately to provoke and publicise – take just about any United Colours of Bennetton ad ever created – but in this day and age the challenge is much more to do with avoiding unintended, perhaps inevitable, media attention when core values have been compromised. The glare of the internet and the omnipresence of camera phones mean that scrutiny of global brands is never far away.

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