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Targeting Your Global Ad Campaign: The Difference Between Translation and Localization

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Note: This is an updated version of a post that was originally written by Stephanie Ciccarelli.

No matter what language your commercial is in, the difference between success and failure hinges on more than the words in your script or a clever call-to-action. In fact, how the message is delivered can be what makes or breaks a great campaign.

Many people who are hiring voice over actors say that they “Know the right voice when they hear it,” but when you pause to consider all of the elements – the nuances of accents, inflections, tone, energy, and language – a lot needs to be just right in order to strike the right chord. This is especially true when you’re hoping to launch a memorable ad in an international market. Global ad campaigns still need to create the right emotional connection, even though they’re often modified to appear in a language that’s different from the original commercial.

When it comes to making a leap – modifying your commercial from one language to another – many companies still confuse translation and localization, two seemingly similar services that can have very different results. Make no mistake: translation and localization are not the same.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between translation and localization, with a special focus on when and why localization should be used.

Localization vs Translation


Translation is relatively straightforward and involves taking content created in one language and directly converting it into another language. Translation can be a cost-effective way to communicate simple information, such as that which would appear on packaging or signage.

However, translation doesn’t not involve customization – that is to say, it doesn’t adapt messages to account for the unique differences in audience types or needs. This can become especially obvious when it comes to voice over scripts, which should not only contain the technically correct language, but also the phrasing of the target audience.

Simply translating a script from English into French, for example, can fail to account for the different forms of French that are spoken in different regions, including Quebec, New Brunswick, France and Africa among others. Throw in local variations in language use, grammar, dialect and tone and it quickly becomes apparent that a one-size-fits-all translation won’t cut it.


Localization is more complex, as it takes context into consideration, as well as the spirit of the entire message.

Localization ensures that words, dialects, cultural and social conventions and more – are all considered so that the message will resonate with the specific needs of a local audience or market. It ensures the target audience will see the message as being specific to them, and it reduces the potential for audience rejection based on a lack of familiarity.

Choosing localization when your message needs to be precise, such as on a website, in a marketing campaign, or when working with logos or slogans, as well as social media.

If You’re Considering Voice Over Translation – You May Wish to Switch to Voice Over Localization

Considering the definitions above, it becomes clear that localization tends to be a better solution when it comes to commercial scripts. After all, your ads need to convey more than simple information – they need to convey emotion.

On this front, research shows that advertisers are finding more success with voice overs that sound like their target audience – and not just in their chosen language and dialect, but in age and gender too. Clearly, the more you’re able to literally and figuratively, ‘speak their language,’ in a peer-to-peer fashion, the more likely you are to be successful with your key audience groups.

What to Consider When Localizing an Ad Campaign

Before starting your search for a voice over actor, consider the following:

What are the Linguistic Nuances of the Region You are Targeting?

Are there specific accents and dialects that are characteristic of the group you are targeting? For instance, ‘Spanish’ for an audience in Mexico is different than Spanish for those in Spain. Be sure to be as specific as you can when describing your voice over job to potential voice actors.

Is Your Target Audience Multilingual?

If the target audience is multilingual, which language will resonate with them most? Consider whether your target region has official languages listed, and whether your target audience tends to learn one language first – chances are, that’s the one that will form a stronger connection. As a frame of reference, you can also explore voice over samples in different languages.

Sometimes, when attempting to reach multilingual audiences, advertisers may opt for a ‘middle ground,’ for instance, where the voice actor speaks English with an accent.

Do Other Demographic Factors Impact Localization?

Do other characteristics of your audience have an impact on what kind of language, accent or dialect is acceptable? For instance, younger audiences may be more receptive to local slang terms, while older audiences may prefer proper versions of the same words.

Are You Translating Voice Over to Spanish?

It can be very common for advertisers in the US to translate their ads into Spanish to appeal to the large Spanish speaking audience in the United States (and often, beyond!).

For an example on how others are navigating the age and language question, you can check out this article on how agencies in the United States are targeting Spanish-English Millennials.

Does your voice over job posting specify you require a native speaker?

Professional voice over actors bring a lot to the table, and one particularly useful skill is their ability to provide respectful feedback on the language in the script. If this seems like a value-add, then it’s worth stating that on the job posting. Specifically, be sure to indicate the level of proficiency you’re looking for in a voice actor, whether that’s ‘fluent’ or ‘native speaker.’

More and More Advertisements are Going Global

If you’re creating a global campaign, you’re in good company. Voices.com research indicates that more than ever, content producers are creating campaigns for international audiences, and they’re making sure to localize their messages.

In 2017, the number of job postings calling for Non-English voice over grew by 60%, and the number of postings calling for a range of accents and dialects also skyrocketed.

Finding Voice Over Translation or Localization Can Be Easy

Knowing the difference between translation and localization can result in more effective communications, and better use of always-limited marketing resources.

When it comes to whether you translate or localize your messages, there are many factors to consider including your needs and budget, however, access to diverse and professional voice over actors doesn’t need to be a barrier.

With over 200,000 voice actors around the globe, who speak in more than 100 different languages, accents and dialects, Voices.com has been offering producers a fast and easy way to localize their ad campaigns for over 15 years.

Sign-up to Voices.com for free today!

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