A Discursive-Semiotic Approach to Translating Cultural Aspects in Persuasive Advertisements
ilze bezuidenhout


The advertisements used as examples in this chapter were chosen for a number of reasons. The first reason was availability. Most South African advertisements were taken from magazines, newspapers or any other printed matter. The Sanlam advertisements were made available by their advertising department. The Absolut advertisements were donated by the South African advertising agency, Net#work. The Belgian advertisements were either obtained from advertising agencies or newspapers and magazines. The advertisements for the travel magazine contain cultural markers which refer to the specific readership, namely French or Flemish.

The Mercedes-Benz advertisements contain American cultural elements that have infiltrated the advertising of a European product. The Pirelli advertisements are examples of advertisements without focus or cultural anchoring. The signs do not work together to generate a specific and aimed meaning. The Iglo spinach advertisements illustrate how signs, such as hocus pocus, can be misunderstood and generate the wrong meaning. The Iglo fish advertisements are good examples of overcoming or preventing cultural transference problems. The context was created outside the cultural background of any receiver (whether French, Flemish or English) by using a sign, the Eskimo community, to generate meaning and a message to the receivers/consumers.

The South African advertisements consisted mainly of Sanlam advertisements. The reason for this was to show how the advertising campaigns were built around certain signs and themes, first the baby theme and then later the hands. This company’s approach to advertising is visionary in that it applies semiotics to build its image and sell its products and services. By following the semiotic approach, continuity is created in the receivers’ minds and thus the messages are enforced. The company is automatically associated with certain signs and their meanings.

The advertisements in the babies campaign used stereotypes and recognizable characters and situations, such as the sangoma. In contrast, the hands campaign uses more general situations and needs as a focus point, such as the blind father’s assurance needs. This approach follows international trends where cultural references are minimized in order to appeal to a wider audience. In certain situations such as the trapeze advertisement, this can be done successfully, but in others, such as the blind father and his daughter, cultural elements will inevitably creep in. Aspects such as choice of vocabulary and pronunciation are cultural markers, and thus place the advertisement in a specific cultural setting.

It becomes clear that the translator has to analyse advertisements semiotically in order to attain an in-depth understanding of the material before him/her. Often advertisements seem simple and easy to translate due to the choice of words or the length of text, but are not. Semiotics forces the translator to get behind the advertisement’s inner workings, and maybe that of its creator. Once this has been done, the translator has to assess the target receivers. This can be done by asking the client who the target market is, where they are demographically distributed, their income, age, gender, education and exposure to advertising in general. These bits of information will give the translator some indication of the receivers’ background and also what cultural references should not be used. For example, if the target group is between 20 and 25 years old, little known cultural references of 40 years back will not make sense to them or catch their attention.

The advertisements discussed reflected only a small percentage of what is available in South Africa and Belgium. However, they represent some of the activities and approaches towards advertisements, translation and semiotics in both countries. The Belgian advertising agencies that contributed to this study appeared to be much more aware of the value of cultural elements in persuasive advertisements than their South African counterparts. One of the reasons could be that Europeans are much more aware and proud of their cultural heritage than South Africans, and are thus prepared to demand advertisements which address them in their choice of language and culture. South Africans have become accustomed to English being the language used in business, and that advertisements follow the route of least resistance by not offending anyone’s cultural sensibilities and using general, non-specific ideas and concepts. This is changing to a certain extent in Afrikaans advertisements, but not enough to make a significant difference.