Localization Culture


Paper Mario’s Controversial Translation

Localization Culture

Nintendo’s Paper Mario video game localization team has sparked a dispute about how it translated sensitive language from Japanese to Traditional Chinese.

Even without the pressure COVID-19 has put on game developers, video game localization requires several considerations. From redesigning food graphics or fashion choices, to adapting jokes to better communicate humor through culture, a video game localization team can stumble into sensitive content without even realizing it.

Nintendo’s July 2020 release of its newest game Paper Mario: The Origami King has sparked a dispute on social media about its localization process, specifically related to its translation into Traditional Chinese.

The argument centered around the translation of a conversation between game characters Toad and Mario. In the Japanese version of the exchange, Toad says he wants “human rights” and “freedom,” but the traditional Chinese version translates to “plain outlook” and a “peaceful life,” according to social media activist ShawTim.

The Japanese words for “human rights,” 人権, and “freedom,” 自由 are both part of the Japanese Kanji characters, many of which derive directly from Traditional Chinese. In fact, the only difference in the two words would be that the second character in “human rights” would look like this: 權.

With such a direct translation clearly available to the translation team, ShawTim’s believes the changes might shed light on pressure from the Chinese government, or at least the Paper Mario Chinese localization team’s proactive measures to avoid making waves in Mainland China.

Still, Niko Partners Senior Analyst Daniel Ahmad pushed back on any conjecture that the change was forced by the Chinese government. In a twitter thread, Ahmad questions the claim that the Chinese government exerted any direct influence, adding that the game has not yet been released in Mainland China.

He goes on to retweet an explanation that points out how the Chinese translation uses puns to make a statement about both better governance and origami. The tweet says that the joke is about toads not being forcibly folded into origami. “Toad needs a neat appearance” and “Toad needs a peaceful life” are puns — the pun is that 平整 (neat) and 平静 (peaceful) both have the component word 平 in it, which is a Chinese word for flat.

Along with the punning that occurs in the Chinese translation, the two end-words reflect linguistic play. Pronounced “Ping Zheng” and “Ping Jing” using Pinyin phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, respectively, the second character in each phrase carries a “J” and “Ng” sound to create a slant rhyme. In this way, the translation might elicit more of a jocular tone than a politically indignant tone, even while insinuating heavy subject-matter.

Whatever the video game localization team’s intentions on the translation, this dispute reflects a natural response to the sensitive nature of localization. Even in the absence of geopolitical disputes like that between Mainland China and Hong Kong, the process of translating from one language or region to another could unleash a world of unintended connotations.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.


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The COVID-19 lessons businesses must learn

Localization Culture

The spread of COVID-19 has significantly changed how we do business — and “we” does not exclude any single industry. France’s national holiday, Bastille Day, was celebrated this July 14 not with the usual parade, but with an 8 billion euro raise for health care workers. Delta airlines, on their part, just reported a staggering 88% loss in sales compared to the previous year for the second quarter of 2020.

Regardless of their preparedness to deal with crises, this pandemic has taught businesses (and nations) some lessons that they should consider before another similar wave kicks in. Namely, to adjust or develop a crisis management plan that should highlight risks, be they financial, human or environmental, and outline a plan for managing and controlling them.

We have witnessed that businesses that were able to switch their operations to remote work did manage to continue their operations successfully. So review your supply chain. Businesses must create alternative plans for their supply chains. As we have seen, most businesses lost their supply of products due to restrictions of flights and closure of borders.
Digitalization is a must. In lockdown, the only way to communicate and continue our everyday work was through digital tools that allowed smooth communication between teams. Apart from that, many activities were able to be conducted by the simple use of digital tools that connected us even though quarantine.

In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic forever changed how we do business, and not a single industry has been spared. Businesses are left with no other option but to respond with the same rapid speed to accommodate these unplanned transformations. Even now, in most places around the world, there is a need to practice social distancing yet stay connected with stakeholders. Amidst all these changes, however, there are always lessons that businesses can learn from this pandemic. Here are a few of them.

The need to have a flexible crisis management plan

If there is one thing that businesses must learn from the COVID-19 crisis, it is the need to have crisis and business continuity plans in place at all times. Another thing to note is that this plan should not just include expected risks such as financial or environmental, it should go deeper and include the unexpected. The plan should be flexible enough to accommodate the changes forced down on businesses by any crisis. The rapidity at which the pandemic hit the world proved a resilience test to organizations, and only the ones who had an elaborate and flexible crisis management plan will ultimately survive.

Businesses should be proactive in responding to the crisis

Though the pandemic has affected the whole world, there are areas that are less impacted than others. In terms of large geographic areas, the difference between the worst hit and the mildly hit is that the latter were proactive and responded faster. They foresaw the extent of the damage the crisis would cause and put in place measures to avert the situation. For instance, areas that implemented lockdowns, started wearing masks and prepared their healthcare systems early enough (by contact tracing and data sharing, for example) are doing well in this crisis. In addition to having a crisis management plan in place, there is need for businesses to have an improved sensory perception system. It is important to be positioned well to sense danger, think and respond rapidly in order to survive a crisis.

Remote working can be a blessing to businesses

As the COVID-19 crisis slowly found its way around the world, so did the reality of the need to work from home. Social distancing meant sending a big chunk of the workforce home, highlighting the need to support them effectively. The good thing is that businesses now know that remote working can be an efficient mode of working, especially because it can drastically reduce office operating expenses. Businesses must now acknowledge that this is a good system and work towards leveraging all benefits that come with it. One, for example, is the ability to have a wider pool to fish the best talents to include in their workforce.

Businesses must carefully review the supply chain

As governments tried to alleviate the spread of the virus, locking down some regions became inevitable. Travel restrictions to and from the worst-hit areas had to be implemented rapidly. That meant that businesses whose main suppliers were from those regions could not get the supplies they needed. Most had to deal with declining inventory levels and reduced manufacturing capabilities. They had to think of alternative supply sources, which is a slow and expensive process. Businesses must learn the need to employ agility in improving supply chain management in order to prevent disruption in production during a crisis.

The importance of digitalization

With governments requiring businesses to operate with fewer people as possible on-site, businesses were forced to transfer most operations to remote locations — people’s homes. This had to be done with minimum disruption to operations as possible. What it meant to businesses is that any operation that was manual or entirely on-premise was now inaccessible and could not continue. Businesses can now not deny the need to have every operation digitized. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for businesses to create a secure an agile digital system.





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Christian A. Kruse is a marketing and business expansion expert for Asian markets. Based in China, he has helped many companies expand in China, Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere. He has experience working in a range of industries and providing technical support in topics such as business growth, market expansion, and product development. Currently, he is also serving as an expert at GlobalizationPedia and provides technical advice for its China EOR solutions targeting US-based international businesses.

SDL Tados 2021

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Five tips for running a localization business in China through COVID-19

Localization Culture

Going through a financial crisis while your country is on lockdown is an experience we will most likely never forget. But even in this time of uncertainty, it could be an experience that will make your team stronger — perhaps by stimulating your business to embrace the available technology and practice crisis consciousness. Our company survived the COVID-19 crisis in China, and we took steps to ensure the business has not suffered any financial losses.

We run a small-size localization agency in Shanghai, China. We have 15 full-time employees and the company is three years old. As a service provider, we were expecting that the lockdown, which started at the beginning of February and lasted till mid-March, to have a tremendous effect on the business, and we were ready for the worst. However, it turns out our expectations were overly pessimistic. By the end of the lockdown, we managed to survive. And we would like to share how we did it, for the companies who are currently going through the same situation.

China’s winter business schedule is always planned around the Chinese New Year, which means many businesses like ours typically have very low business activity for at least two weeks during this period. This year the holidays started on January 24, but the lockdown happened immediately after that, so all activities and office work had already been suspended. Therefore, during this period, we lost all our event interpreting business, and the translation activity of clients that were not operating at all, representing the largest chunk of our business.

However, this did not mean that the crisis had pushed us into a corner. We simply had to become more creative and adaptable in order to survive the weeks that followed. Here are the five most important lessons I have learned from this unusual situation.

1. Assure the safety of your employees

Expectation: the team will lose touch and become distant and difficult to manage
Reality: the team became more connected

Making sure your team is safe is priority number one. Any business should always center around its people. We suspended all employee travel until the city returned back to normal, and in fact, some employees are still working from home to this day, even though most companies have been back to business for a while now.

I could not imagine for a second what could have happened to our business if one of my teammates became infected. This would not have only affected our office, but the entire building.

It was also a good opportunity for our team managers to implement their soft skills and show what kind of leaders they are. Showing people that the company is not only a place of work, but also a team that cares about one another, and supports its families is crucial during this time.

As a result, our employees developed a stronger bond with one another, and team spirit actually increased.

2. Business continuity and home office

Expectation: the team will become disorganized and distracted.
Reality: the team became more efficient and productive.

For managers, it is always worrisome to implement something very new to the team that requires new working habits to be formed. So we were skeptical when we introduced home working for all members of the team. But this was not a time for hesitation — assuring business continuity is essential for any company, as if there is no production, there is simply no company. It didn’t take much time to set up this new way of working, but ensuring that everyone stuck to it was a little more challenging. Of course this meant more (online) meetings, more calls, more time spent talking with each employee and so on, but when all the mini-trainings and setup was done, we realized that working from home has a lot to offer. No time wasted in traffic, limited social interaction and in turn fewer distractions meant that tasks were completed more quickly while maintaining the same level of attention.

Of course, for families with children, it was a more challenging time, but we noticed that some members with limited free time dealt with tasks faster and more efficiently.  Also, keeping one’s mind busy can save people from being overwhelmed by mass hysteria and panic.

Home office tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom were implemented with great success, and in addition to project management tools such as Asana that had long been in place. But in general, we believe that home working could play an important role in the future for many types of companies, especially in the digital and service industry.

3. New ways of business development

Expectation: the company will be stuck with one appropriate product or service.
Reality: there are many ways to develop new business.

The third lesson that we learned is how to think outside the box when it comes to new ways of finding business. For us it meant concentrating on social media communication (at a time when others were heavily using social media) to our advantage.

I have also realized that many people were in need of urgent legal document translation and medical related translation. We had shortlisted a few services that could be useful to people at this time and concentrated on those. Attending webinars and spending time in online group discussions have also brought us business prospects. Even sponsoring online events in the ways we can (providing video subtitling or remote interpreting) benefited both the local community and our business.

Some of our clients used the manufacturing slowdown to prepare for the upcoming seasons by taking care of their documentation, marketing materials and website translations, which also brought us business.

We have observed even more creative new business approaches from our community: live fitness classes, online education of children, webinars on all types of topics, delivery-only or take-out-only restaurants, adaptation of traditional businesses to e-commerce. Companies spent time in building relationships with influencers for upcoming seasons, with an emphasis on digital marketing in general.

It is important to remember that the lockdown will not last forever. Here in Shanghai, and for most cities in China, it lasted 6-7 weeks. During lockdown, I strongly recommend using all resources available to them to turn this challenging situation into an opportunity, whether it be learning a new way of presenting information or testing different ways of operating.

4. Self-education and online connection with the community

Expectation: I could end up wasting time.
Reality: I ended up learning more about new ways of how businesses can operate, how the current crisis situation has developed, and government incentives.

Attending these endless webinars and niche lectures might seem like being exposed to neverending sales pitches, which is partly true, as every organizer of a webinar or education session has their own goal in mind. But we found there was much more to these events.

Having access to online communities where one can share experiences, new information and ideas is a great tool to use. One learns that many people are experiencing the same issues, which can be reassuring. And keeping up and learning from niche professionals is never a waste of time. We ended up joining webinars on legal topics, crisis entrepreneurship, social media marketing, financial investments and many more interesting topics we always wanted to learn about, but thought we were too busy for.

Learning new skills is always a great investment in oneself, as one never knows when these skills might come in useful. For me personally, I found out that anyone can make time for self-education once the workflow is set in an efficient manner,

5. Handling finances

Expectation: the company will not survive if we do not lay off most of the staff
Reality: the company might break even and pay full salaries if you prioritize your expenses

We were mostly stressed about not being able to make it through the crisis, as well as not being able to keep the entire team on the payroll.

We believe that every SME needs a small “security fund” to ensure that the company can continue for at least two months of non-operation. But even if that’s not possible, cash flow management essentials will play a great role in times like these.

Limiting non-essential expenses will mean taking more work and responsibility in-house. Pay your people first, even if it means not paying yourself, and lead by example. For larger companies this could mean negotiating and dealing with employees by creating new ways of incentives, and temporarily postponing bonuses.

Some companies were forced to ask people to take this time as annual leave, take a pay cut, or implement more drastic measures, which thankfully we were not forced to do.

Making financial priorities is important at this time, even hard ones such as postponing vendor pay-outs, as well as being ready to receive late payments from your clients.

For us, the information on government incentives came two weeks before the lockdown was over, and it meant significant relief on social security payments as well as two months of free rent for offices that occupied government owed property. So, it is normal for government to take time and decide on how it can support businesses. We hope every government will provide maximum support to businesses and assure the economy pushes though this hard time.

Looking ahead

Staying calm is essential in times of crisis. It brings confidence to those people around you and allows them to focus on the things that can be done. Remember, whatever stage of lockdown your country is in, it will not last forever, and for many businesses this time can and should be spent intelligently. It is therefore in your best interests to concentrate on the things you can do to improve the situation, instead of spending all your time idly worrying about the things you cannot control at this time.

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Ekaterina Chernavina is marketing director of HI-COM Translation, and a China-specific marketing specialist and advisor.

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Localizing for holidays in a changing world

Localization Culture

Localizing holidays thanksgivingSomething we don’t talk a lot about when we talk about localization is keeping up with changing cultural ideology. Thanksgiving is a prime example. Held the fourth Thursday of November every year in the United States, this year the holiday is celebrated tomorrow, and the days surrounding it are often treated as holidays as well.

If you’re marketing products for the US market, Thanksgiving could mean any number of things. For ecommerce, it might mean Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and getting a jump on competitors by starting deep online discounts the evening of Thanksgiving. But that comes with its own set of complications: a subsegment of the US population dislikes commercializing a holiday built around sharing the simple pleasures of family and gratitude for what you have. Homemade apple pie from Grandma. Watching little Jane take her first bite of cranberry sauce, make a face, and decide she hates it. The uncles sharing a jug of hard cider made in the basement. Single auntie Fran trying to sleep on an air mattress in the TV room while Jane jumps off the couch and tackles her. Commercializing Thanksgiving leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

And then, there is the question of whether to celebrate the holiday at all. Some argue that it represents the pilgrims taking the hospitality of Native Americans and repaying it with centuries of genocide, thievery and broken promises, and prefer to commemorate a National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving Day instead.

Others remember keenly during the holidays that they’re estranged from their families for any myriad of reasons. That they can’t go home because their parents have rejected them, or maybe because they just can’t handle Uncle Jim’s political rants anymore.

Thus, saying “if you want to localize for the US market in late November, be sure to acknowledge Thanksgiving and have a nice turkey theme” would be overly simplistic. And this goes for other celebrations around the world as well. Just because you figured out the best way to portray a multicultural holiday celebration last year, that doesn’t mean it will be the same this year or the year after. Traditions change. Cultural ideology shifts over time.

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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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English to Japanese game localization considerations

Localization, Localization Culture

Interview with Clyde Mandelin

The Legends of Localization website features the “best and worst” game translations.

Clyde Mandelin (who often goes by Mato on the web) is an author, blogger, video game localizer and more. Perhaps best known for his work on the fan translation of Mother 3, he also runs Legends of Localization, a website dedicated to “a detailed look at video game translation and how games change during the translation process.” Here, he’s interviewed by Quin Callahan in anticipation of our upcoming issue on game localization.

Quin: Some Japanese to English translations seem so poorly translated that it can make English speakers wonder how such a translation passed any sort of QA. You also mention on your site that this same issue can happen with English to Japanese translations, especially in terms of which honorifics and tone is chosen for a given piece of text. Why do you think it is so common that issues get into games or other media that a single person who natively speaks the language being translated into easily recognizes?

Clyde: I think the big reason is that most people haven’t had formal experience with what translation is and how it actually works. It’s generally seen as a simple 1:1 process that anyone can do as long as they know both languages involved. Most people also aren’t aware that there’s a big difference between translating into your native language and translating into a non-native language. This stuff is very basic for people in the know, but it’s not common knowledge for most of the world.

On top of everything else, having someone who speaks the target language natively needs to be in the equation somewhere, and it’s difficult and scary for the average person to find and communicate with such people.

So, for example, if an American game developer wants to release their game in Japanese, it’s very likely that that developer doesn’t understand Japanese to begin with. The combination of the lack of understanding of how translation works, plus the lack of a native target language speaker, plus the lack of understanding of the target language will naturally lead to poor results.

Quin: Perhaps this was more an issue in the past, but sometimes English voice acting in Japanese-developed games is strangely acted. I admit the reverse might also be true, with poor Japanese readings in games coming from English-speaking developers. How do you explain poor voice acting in blockbuster Japanese titles? Are there any titles coming out of English-speaking countries with similar issues in Japanese?

Clyde: This was a bigger problem in the past as you mention, but probably mostly because everyone in the industry was still learning and figuring out everything for the first time. I assume the poor voice acting was a combination of poor translation with awkward wording, inexperienced directors, inexperienced or no-experience voice actors, and a general “it’s good enough” attitude.

I don’t play a whole lot of English games translated into Japanese these days, so I’m not too familiar with the English to Japanese dub situation. A quick search shows there are very strong opinions on subs vs. dubs in Japan too, as well as bad examples like Painkiller: Hell & Damnation and Fear 3. Also, there’s the usual problem of “the more popular a game it is, the more criticism it’ll receive as well,” so super big budget games that are super popular like Skyrim and Fallout and Call of Duty all have plenty of dub-haters.

Quin: As the world becomes more globalized, is translation and localization becoming easier for both Eastern and Western companies?

Clyde: I believe so, but mostly in the sense that it’s now easier to reach out and find the resources necessary to do proper translation and localization. Before, you either had to know someone who maybe knew the languages involved, had to go out of your way to find an agency, or had to forego the translation/localization entirely. Now there are more resources and personnel out there that are easily accessible around the world.

Quin: Do you have any advice for a company looking to get text translated from English to Japanese?

Clyde: It really depends on what’s being translated, but the biggest thing of all is to make sure the final version gets proofed by a native-level Japanese speaker! Ideally, that Japanese speaker would also be the translator.

Also, it’s important to provide as many details as possible before the translation begins, and to be there to answer questions — or ask questions — as the translation progresses. Translation isn’t like a restaurant — you don’t just give your order and wait for the finished product to arrive on your table. If you do, your translation will have problems.

Quin: Localization often seems like an art. For instance, I can recall seeing a Japanese game’s English localization where all Shinto references were replaced by Christian ones to try and maintain understanding and tone among readers more familiar with that religious tradition, rather than maybe the original exact meaning of the text. What sort of balance do you try to maintain in your own translating and localizing?

Clyde: Since I’m a translator-for-hire, this is more up to whatever the client prefers and whatever the project calls for. In general, when I have the freedom to choose, I prefer to change text only when a straight translation wouldn’t work. But again, every project and every translation choice is different, so it’s always a case-by-case thing.

Quin: Understanding that both languages are complex and often very different, with entire websites like yours able to be devoted to exploring the topic, why do some of the common spelling and grammar errors we see in Japanese to English translations happen?

Clyde: Early Japanese games were often translated into English by non-native English speakers, so poor English skills were to blame most of the time. Today, native-level English speakers do that stuff now, so the grammar and spelling mistakes we see in modern games are usually no different from the types of mistakes you’d find in any writing field. In a best-case scenario you’d have people checking translations and proofreading the final translations before the final product is released, but that adds time and money that not every company can spare.

Quin: Are there any fundamental changes you’d like to see in how the West tends to view localizing and translating?

Clyde: I think it’d be helpful to clear up the misconception that every language can be converted into other languages in a 1:1 way. Movies and the like gloss over what translation is and how it works — translators in movies can instantly translate anything and make it all rhyme and pull all of the contextual information out of thin air as if it’s nothing. And since this is the most the average person learns about translation, it makes it seem like translation is quick and easy and should be cheap.

The term “localization” is still new to the average person in the West, and there’s no real clear definition of what “localization” means. If you ask different people you’ll get different answers. For some, it’s what’s done to make jokes work in translation. For others, “localization” is a synonym for “censoring.” Some professionals use “culturalization” to mean what we call “localization” and use the word “localization” for something more geographical in nature. Basically, it’s sort of a big mess and I’m hoping that the work I do helps clear the air at least a tiny bit.

Quin: On the flipside of that issue, are there any changes you’d like to see from the way Japanese businesses or fans approach localizing and translations?

Clyde: I’m not as familiar with the Japanese business side of things, but in general I’ve always felt that Japanese businesses are held back by excessive bureaucracy and a lack of motivation to evolve. From what little I’ve seen, the companies with passion seem to do the most well-received translations/localizations, while the old corporate giants are slow to catch up and thus produce translations/localizations of lesser quality.

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Quin Callahan has worked as an English and economics tutor at Warren County Community College for over four years, while also freelance writing for a variety of organizations. Callahan focuses on both the PC and tabletop gaming spaces as well as on mental health and addiction.

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The Irish Language: A Cereal Troublemaker Hits the Gaeltacht

Language, Localization Culture

The semantics of selfies in Irish

I was reminded of the whole Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain“Sé-Mé” #selfie uproar (a classic case of urban Irish — or Gaeilge, and not “Gaelic” — usage versus the “official” Irish (where “selfie” is “féinín”) when I visited my son in the Gaeltacht (or primarily Irish-speaking area) in Ireland recently.

Dara Ó Briain discovers "Sé-Mé". And the sky fell.

Dara Ó Briain discovers “Sé-Mé“. And the sky fell.

Flaky terminology

I joined my son (aged 13) for breakfast and asked him if he knew the Irish for “cereal.” Officially, the term would be “gránach bricfeasta” or similar, but he simply said, “calóga” (which basically means “flakes”).

Kellog's Special K in France

Kellog’s Special K on sale in France (Carrefour, Paris). Image by Ultan O’Broin.

But I thought he’d said “Cellógga,” my Dublin urban Irish ear already tuned into expecting to hear brand names and slang as terminology. That’s the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can’t understand each other.

That's the Irish language for you today in Ireland: more people than ever (claim to) speak it, but we just can't understand each other. Click To Tweet This issue of an evolving Irish language demographic was covered by Brian Ó Broin (no relation) a few years back in a previous issue of MultiLingual and he has also written about emerging Schism fears for Gaeilgeoirí (or Irish language speakers) elsewhere.

Whereas I could natter along in my pidgin Dublin Irish about “blockchain” or “chatbots” to other Dubliners, when weather announcements are made on Ireland’s official Irish broadcasting network in Irish, I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

Language wars not worth fighting

I am sure other languages (French, for example) face these kind of issues. But does it really matter as long as people can communicate, and use the context to figure out the differences?

And I don’t think the official Irish versus everyday street version delineation is as clear-cut as many would like to think.

It was remarkable that many people in the Gaeltacht that I met switched between the urban “pidgin” Gaeilge, official Gaeilge, and even interspersed the conversation with English terms, depending on their innate human sense of what the listener would get.

As for that Kelloggs Special K, ironically there is no letter “K” in the Gaeilge alphabet.

If you’ve found yourself in similar situations or come across terminology conflicts in the digital age, then let us know in the comments!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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The selling point of being a responsible LSP

Localization Culture

Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10. It’s a commemoration of the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The General Assembly followed up with a resolution in 1950 that invited all states and interested organizations to observe that day of each year as Human Rights Day.

The UN says that “Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack.” The organization calls on people to take a stand for rights and advocate for more humanity, asking them to “Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.”

But it’s not just at international governmental levels where important cause-led campaigns are a priority.

Earlier this year, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an event attended by around 11,000 delegates, one of the constant themes across many award-winning branding campaigns was that of having a purpose in your company’s marketing communications.

One of the award winners at the Festival was a campaign called Fearless Girl run on behalf of the New York investment firm State Street Global Advisors, which involved the commissioning of a statue of girl of around 12 years old placed directly opposite Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture. The campaign was launched to tie in with the first International Women’s Day after President Trump’s inauguration in the US. The campaign aims at promoting gender diversity on Wall Street, while raising awareness among financial communities of State Street’s SHE fund, which invests in businesses with female executives. While the initial idea was to place the statue on Wall Street for just one week, according to Pablo Walker, president of McCann Worldgroup Europe, it has become so popular that they now hope to keep it there for at least a year.

So why should businesses be concerned with such issues? To begin with, companies with a purpose beyond profit tend to make more money. In January 2016, Simon Caulkin of the Financial Times cited a survey from a combined team from Harvard Business Review Analytics and professional services firm EY’s Beacon institute. Entitled “The Business Case for Purpose,” the survey declared that “those companies able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability enjoy a distinct competitive advantage.” In his article covering the survey, Caulkin added that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras found when studying a group of “visionary” companies between 1926 and 1990 that those guided by a purpose beyond making money returned six times more to shareholders than explicitly profit-driven rivals.

Purpose mobilizes people

According to Sherry Hakimi, founder and CEO of Sparktures, “a purpose mobilizes people in a way that pursuing profits alone never will. For a company to thrive, it needs to infuse its purpose in all that it does. An organization without purpose manages people and resources, while an organization with purpose mobilizes people and resources. Purpose is a key ingredient for a strong, sustainable, scalable organizational culture. It’s an unseen-yet-ever-present element that drives an organization. It can be a strategic starting point, a product differentiator, and an organic attractor of users and customers.”

Jo Alexander, an associate at On Purpose, said that “Organizations that put people, rather than profit, at the heart of their business are successful because they understand what motivates people: a shared sense of purpose and our desire to form meaningful relationships.”

On Purpose provides a year-long leadership program in social enterprise, through a combination of work placements, formal training and coaching. Associates build their skills and sector awareness to harness the power of business for good. Alexander added, “A work environment that allows employees to fulfil both of these needs can unleash their collective potential in a way that traditional organizations, that view their people as being simply motivated by money, status and power, cannot.”

Hakimi goes on to say that when a company demonstrates an authentic purpose, consumers feel a connection to the products and company. They will choose the authentically purposeful company’s products, even if it’s not the cheapest offering.

But while that might be the case for consumers, does having a purpose impact the business buying process too? The language industry serves as an interesting case study in this respect.

There are tens of thousands of language service providers (LSPs) offering translation, localization, transcreation and interpreting services to clients across the world. Finding ways to differentiate themselves in such a competitive industry can prove difficult.

It is imperative to understand the nature of their clients and their sectors. Clients more often choose a provider that understands their company spirit in addition to providing first-class quality language services. Indeed, this theory is backed up by buyers of language services. For example, Patrick Nunes, global communications manager at Rotary International, stated that while Rotary’s RFPs contain no official questions about an LSP’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, it is something he personally wants to hear about when talking to them, whether in a formal or informal setting.

While Nunes will not sacrifice attributes such as cost and efficiency in any supplier’s pitch, understanding their CSR policy could make a difference to him, particularly if it’s also in line with Rotary’s vision.

This was a view shared by Franck Schneider, digital communications manager at Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG), who is also responsible for sourcing translation. Given that HUG cares for many migrants, Schneider views CSR as an important argument, along with cost and quality, in understanding the offering of potential new LSP suppliers. However, said Schneider, not many of those he has met put CSR forward as an argument for choosing them.

Many buyer companies espouse particular values or have their own CSR program, according to Jonathan Bowring, former European localization director at Canon Europe who now acts as a consultant to the language industry through his company Riversight. According to Bowring, “Canon operates a philosophy of kyosei, living and working together for the common good.” He explained that this encompasses society and the environment, both local and global, including the treatment of suppliers and even competitors and said that “buyers with strong value systems in place may seek to build supply chains which reflect those values, although this is often mitigated by the commercial realities of offshore pricing and the priorities of their procurement function.”

Off the coast of a refugee camp in Greece where TWB translated for refugees. Photo taken for TWB.

However, in Bowring’s experience, LSPs made relatively little noise about their CSR programs, if they had them, other than a mention on their website of support for Translators without Borders (TWB). TWB is a charity that helps non-profit organizations overcome communication barriers, increasing access to critical information and services in times of great need, achieved through a global network of professional translators. But he said that “the values of a supplier have wider application than a CSR program.” For example, Bowring wants to know how an LSP treats its own suppliers and translators. Does it make a point of paying them fairly and on time, or are they exploited as the lowest in the food chain? He said that “the treatment of staff is another values indicator: an LSP once lost my prospective business by boasting to me in its sales pitch of the long hours regularly worked by its staff.”The values of a supplier have wider application than a CSR program... Click To Tweet

Employee fulfillment

Perhaps a more important reason for an LSP, or any business, to have a purpose is the impact it has on its own employees and, as Bowring puts it, “for the health of the organization itself.” He said that “Millennials tend to be interested in a holistic employer which lends meaning to their work. Having a corporate purpose beyond simply generating wealth may appeal to them and to others, for instance those addressing midlife questions of how to give something back. CSR can be highlighted in recruitment to attract the type of employee who shares the company ethos.”

Allison Ferch, programs director at the Globalization and Localization Association, agrees. She said that “CSR or similar could be a selling point for an LSP when they are trying to attract or retain talent. Certainly, many employees can and do appreciate a company culture that embraces social responsibility and demonstrates that in concrete ways.”

That’s certainly the case for CPSL’s vendor manager, Cristina Pera, who said that the company’s community involvement with TWB makes her feel proud of the company she works for and that it makes her feel more connected to the company, too. As well as supporting TWB, CPSL works with the First Hand Foundation, an entrepreneurial foundation dedicated to changing the lives of children and families around the world through health and wellness programming.

The contribution made by TWB sponsors is vital to supporting the sustainability of the organization’s core operations and programs. However, it’s the willingness of supporters to go the extra mile that its founder Lori Thicke would welcome. “Often LSPs that have extra capacity will offer project management support, helping to translate hundreds of thousands of words. We have had LSPs train our project managers, and also help fill the need for hard-to-source languages such as Rohingya, a current urgent need for the response to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh,” she said. Thicke added that of course the fun based fundraising activities that LSPs organize are important, but getting supporters interested and involved in this important work is great to see and it also helps to raise awareness of the importance of language agenda.

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Russell Goldsmith is founder of Audere Communications. He runs workshops on creating engaging content for international campaigns, and regularly authors articles for clients, including CPSL Language Services. He produces and presents the csuite podcast, a show is aimed at marketing professionals and the wider business audience. He has recorded over 50 shows, interviewing more than 200 senior executives and recent sponsors of the show have included Microsoft and the UK’s Ministry of Justice.

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