Title "Mobile App Translation: Creative Challenges & Recommendations" in white font over black background. Picture of author with branded logo.

Mobile App Translation: Creative Challenges & Recommendations

When it comes to mobile apps, there’s more to translating content than meets the eye. More often than not, mobile app localization requires not only a solid understanding of the app category’s jargon, but also a creative approach to translating the user interface, the app creatives, and other in-app content as well.

Here’s a short take on some evergreen challenges the team at orangepowerDMH have come across over the years, when creatively translating dating & lifestyle apps, gaming apps, and mobile apps for children, from English into Latin American or Mexican Spanish.

Mobile App Translation: Register, wordplay and coinages

Certain mobile app categories are more likely to use informal register (also known as casual register), which implies using a conversational tone and colloquial language. This key ingredient is what makes some mobile application brands feel like we are talking to a friend or a friend is talking to us. Informal register and colloquial language allows for the use of figures of speech (such as metaphors, puns, humor, irony, analogy, etc.) that, more often than not, pose juicy creative challenges to the translators behind the localization of these apps’ content, which may include the application’s description on popular app stores, its UI content, app creatives in digital advertising environments, in-app content, and more.

Three widely popular devices used in categories like dating apps, social casino apps, and apps for children are:

  • Wordplay: wordplay is all about verbal wit and playing upon the meaning and ambiguities of words. An example of wordplay can be found in John Deere’s slogan “Nothing runs like a Deere” (playing with the meanings of rundeer-Deere).
  • Coinages: it’s a word-forming process that means to invent a new word, expression or term. Examples of coinages can be found everywhere in the advertising industry, such as in the brand name “Google.”
  • Alliteration: alliteration consists of the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of closely connected words, such as in “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

Let’s see some interesting examples of real apps below.

Wordplay in OkCupid’s Slogan

Take dating apps, for instance. Tinder and OkCupid are all about conversational talk with their target users. And because they also mean to be fun, wordplay and coinages are the order of the day in the world of matchmaking apps. 

Let’s take a quick look at OkCupid’s slogan: “Match on what matters.”

While the copy in English may look too simple to worry about, a literal translation in Spanish would not only override the alliterative device in “Match”/ “Matters,” it would also read a bit too distant or even cold-hearted, and certainly awkward:

  • “Machea con lo que te importa”.
  • “Haz match/Match con lo importante”.

Interestingly enough, due to OkCupid’s core value of Diversity and Inclusion, the brand’s slogan in English resorts to a gender-neutral nominal phrase by means of “what matters” in English. Here “what matters” implicitly refers to both, the people and the gender identities that matter to the app user, as well as the kind of relationship or level of commitment the user is looking for. 

However, if we translate the phrase literally into Spanish, keeping the relative clause as in “lo que te importa” (=what you care about) or “lo que importa” (=what matters to you), the resulting translation doesn’t make sense in connection with this brand’s identity. A literal translation in Spanish would actually result in a cold, impersonal, distant call to action where the other person (the user’s target match) is implicitly treated as an inanimate object. Indeed, the literal version in Spanish would be grammatically correct and acceptable, were it not for the fact that it reads totally off-brand: “Matchea con lo que te importa” is closer to suggesting this is a bank company talking to you instead of a matchmaking friend.

Therefore, if you need a localization solution for your mobile app, always be careful to look for something beyond traditional translation-editing-proofing (TEP) services. If you truly want to have your copy in Spanish resonate with your target audience in Latin America, so as to engage with them and inspire them to action, you need a marketing-savvy, copywriting-wise team of expert linguists that will handle your brand’s identity with care. And that means recreating the effect—not just translating the words—of your copy while ensuring the localized version stays true to your brand’s identity and personality. 

Related: Translation vs Localization vs Transcreation—Which One for Your Global Brand?

The Challenges of Tinder’s Mantra

Even a simple three-word tagline can take a few hours to do it justice when it comes to mobile app localization. In Tinder’s mantra “Match. Chat. Date.,” there are at least four creative challenges to tackle before you reach a proper Spanish translation that will equally resonate with the LATAM readers.

Here is a preliminary list of the most salient creative challenges in this case:

  • Short and simple: The original “Match. Chat. Date.” is made up of only three short words. Simple is beautiful.
  • Parallelism: All three components of “Match. Chat. Date.” are verbs calling the reader to action. This creates a rhetorical effect known as parallelism, the same device used by the Greek poets and nowadays preachers and politicians worldwide in order to make their message and speeches enticing and, more importantly, memorable.
  • Rhythm: One reason why Tinder’s mantra is so catchy is that it bears a staccato rhythm, that is, it sounds like three even, balanced taps. If you can’t “hear” it in your mind yet, try reading the phrase out loud: “Match. Chat. Date.” Now read it out loud again, while tapping your foot against the floor at the same time… See? Rhythm is a dancer / It’s a soul’s companion / You can feel it everywheeeere. (Sorry—I just love that song.)
  • Rhyme: The first two verbs, “Match” and “Chat,” are similar in euphonic (“the quality of being pleasing to the ear”) nature, as they both sound pretty much alike due to the repetition of the /a/ sound in mAtch, chAt. This is no coincidence. More likely than not, the copywriting team at Tinder chose these verbs carefully, in order to create a simple but memorable rhyming pattern between “Match” and “Chat.” The rhyme is purposefully broken by means of the diphthong /ei/ in “Date,” thus creating a “punch line” effect. So your brain hears an engaging pattern that goes Match-Chat-Date = “same sound” – “same sound” – “different!” Translate that, hu?

The list of the creative challenges posed by such a simple and short phrase like Tinder’s mantra could continue, but the point I’m trying to make here is simpler than that: never underestimate the localization of your copy into Spanish, especially if it includes rhetorical devices like a play-upon-words, rhythm, rhyme, neologisms, humor, irony, or simply colloquial language and a conversational tone.

3 risks of using standard translation solutions

Due to time and/or budget constraints, some brands will choose to go for a regular translation solution when it comes to having their product reach a new target audience. However, there are a number of considerable risks associated with this practice, such as:

Reputational disaster

From product and brand naming, to advertising campaigns, using a standard translation service or not using any at all can definitely make or break a brand. It certainly cost Nissan thousands of dollars in lost revenue and reputational damage.
When the Japanese car manufacturer decided to introduce the Nissan Moco vehicle in Spanish-speaking countries, their failure to invest in marketing localization services made hilarious history in the world of advertising and languages: while in Japanese “Moco” derives from the word “mokomoko” (which expresses a mimetic warm sound in allusion to the car’s beautiful rounded styling), the Spanish noun moco is the equivalent of “bogger” or “mucus” in English. Embarrassing, isn’t it?

Customer perception and positioning

Imagine you saw your friends at a social gathering yesterday and had a cool time together. But today you see them again, and suddenly you are just not your usual self with them. In fact, interacting with you feels like you are a totally different person. You are acting so weirdly, they wonder what is wrong with you today. And it makes everybody uncomfortable, nobody knows what to expect or how to react to this new you. They find it hard to trust you all of a sudden. 

That’s how it feels when, not purposefully, a brand looks and acts and speaks in a certain way in a given language, but looks and acts and speaks in a totally different manner in another. Using a standard translation and editing workflow to localize your mobile app content may result in a similar disconnect to the eyes and the ears of your new target audience: internally, it can create a serious inconsistency at the level of brand identity and personality across markets, with your brand looking like a totally different one in Spanish vs. English speaking countries; externally, your content may be so unappealing to the target audience in a new culture that your engagement and conversion rates would suffer.

Revenue loss

When you leave your international communication strategy for your mobile app in the hands of a translation team that can only deliver a standard translation, you run the risk of missing out on financial gains. Standard translations will read grammatically correct and, hopefully, accurate. However, they are bound to fail to:

  • recreate the effect of your original brand claims and overall message
  • connect and engage with your target audience in the new target locale
  • inspire people to take action and drive down-funnel conversions for your app (less downloads, less installs, less in-app purchases, etc.)

By contrast, partnering with a creative marketing localization expert like orangepowerDMH will result in:

  • ad-hoc creative language solutions aimed at understanding your brand in detail in order to reflect its product value and have its localized messages resonate with the target audience
  • rendering your mobile app content not just accurately in Spanish, but also creatively, in a manner that is both appealing and enticing to your target users
  • driving users to engage with your mobile app product through desired external and in-app events

As you’ve probably noticed by now, there is definitely more to mobile app translation than meets the eye. Therefore, when brands are looking to cross borders with their app product and marketing communications, a standard translation solution is likely to fail to meet their marketing and communication objectives, and could result in more risks than gains in the long run.

Not sure whether your product would be eligible for creative marketing localization? Drop us a line to schedule a free consultation!

Note: None of the brand names, institutions or companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with orangepowerDMH.

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Delfina Morganti Hernández
Delfina Morganti Hernández

My name is Delfina Morganti Hernández and I’m the founder of a strong, globally renowned personal brand known as orangepowerDMH, proudly morphing into a creative boutique of bilingual writers making things happen for brands." por "Hi, I am Delfina. I help write copy that converts and brand stories that s(w)ell for global human brands. I also mentor and coach freelance translators so they can make a living out of their profession. Want to find out more?

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