The creative adaptation imperative

Canada is a rich and diverse country, with strong values of openness and inclusiveness. The Canadian population has grown and flourished because of immigration, and the cultural diversity that resulted is one of the country’s biggest strengths.

More and more, organisations are making proactive efforts to be more inclusive of minorities in Canada, and to bridge what divide exists between the Anglo-Canadian majority and the French, Indigenous and immigrant populations, among others.

Being inclusive of the francophone audience specifically should be a business priority, for both the public and private sector. In the National Capital Region, where the federal government employs 20% of the workforce, bilingualism is especially relevant. Local marketing and advertising agencies, for instance, who are bound to have public sector clients, manage bilingualism requirements on a daily basis.

So bilingualism is never a surprise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge. Too often in our business, we’ve observed that French is an afterthought. Campaigns are developed in English first, and French comes later – leading to inferior quality as a result. The concept or message gets lost in translation, or is just not impactful or meaningful to the francophone target.

This can’t go on anymore. Not in Canada. And not in 2019. Here’s how you can start moving in the direction of linguistic and cultural adaptation.

Parlez-vous français?

The French language is a key part of Canadian culture. According to the 2016 Statistics Canada census, nearly 18% of the Canadian population is bilingual (45% in Quebec, and 10% outside Quebec). Almost 12% of Canadians ONLY speak French (50% of the Quebec population).

Canada is home to a very diverse Francophonie, with a variety of French-speaking communities across the country. Each of these communities have their own cultural and language specificities: Franco-Ontariens are not Acadiens, Acadiens are not Québécois, Québécois are not Fransaskois.

Since the Official Languages Act came into effect in 1969, English and French have been the official languages of Canada in their own right and both have equal status in the eye of the federal government.

Putting adaptation into action

Go beyond a simple translation

When it comes to addressing bilingualism in Canada, especially in communications and marketing, creative adaptation is an essential tool.

Creative adaptation, or transcreation, is more than just translation. It’s creative translation that adapts the message to the target audience and addresses its cultural differences, its language nuances, idioms and expressions.

It’s more than translating the words to convey a message – it’s recreating the message to make sure it’s as clear and impactful as the original. As such, creative adaptation is more copywriting than translation.

Creative adaptation is especially important in our business. We’ve all seen these great, creative, powerful concepts and taglines that fall completely flat in French.

In a country where the French language is valued, and where its speakers fight daily to preserve the right to use and be served in French, organisations that settle for the minimum will suffer. This is especially true in Quebec and within the larger Francophone communities.

Develop English and French together

Ideally, creative development should happen in both English and French at the same time. It makes it easier to ensure the quality of a tagline and other messaging is equal in both languages. It also reins in the use of puns or wordplay that are hard to translate!

Not all creative directors and copywriters have a good enough grasp of both languages to be able to do that however. So having the right mix of players on the team you work with is critical – and Banfield is fortunate to have this diversity in-house at all levels.

Make gender inclusivity a priority

Another important consideration for creative adaptation is the use of gender. Unlike English, the French language doesn’t offer many gender-neutral terms and pronouns.

When referring to people, the generic masculine primes and is used to refer to both genders. In the last decade, in an effort to be more inclusive of women in the written language, we’ve taken to including both: “Canadians” becomes “les Canadiennes et Canadiens”, “students” becomes “les étudiantes et étudiants”, etc.

While this is certainly more inclusive, the length of the resulting sentences becomes problematic, especially in bilingual communications.

The solution is gender-neutral writing, which simply means rewriting the text in a way that takes out the reference to gender (for example, using “le personnel” instead of “l’employée et employé”). This makes for lighter, shorter text that matches English more closely and is easier to manage on bilingual promotional tools.

Get insights from your audience

When working with linguistic or cultural adaptation, it’s important to be accurate. The best way to ensure the accuracy of the message and of the cultural references used is to include someone on the team who has that cultural background.

For example, when writing for a Québécois or Franco-ontarien audience, someone with that background should at the very least be reviewing and revising – since both audiences have their own specificities and idiosyncrasies, expressions and idioms.

The same idea applies when developing creative aimed at another culture. If you’re trying to communicate with an Indigenous audience, for example, make sure that members of that audience are consulted to avoid errors in language or issues with the visuals used to portray the message.

Ready to adapt?

 If you recognize the value that creative adaptation could bring to your organization, but haven’t been able to take the necessary steps, maybe it’s time you work with an expert partner like Banfield.

Get in touch with us, we’d love to talk — in any language you prefer – about how our team and services could bring you story to life in a way that connects with people on their own terms.



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