In any type of content, words are incredibly important. As a language solutions company, Vocalink Global has a deep respect for language. Our linguists are experts at transforming a message from one language to another. But as the old, English saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A single bad image, wrong emoji, confusing icon, or bad color choice can irreparably alter your message. On the flip side, including the right images, emojis, and colors strengthens your message.
The Thumbs Up
Take, for example, the humble “thumbs up” emoji.
Giving a thumb’s up is a sign of approval in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Russia. But in many places in Latin America, West Africa and the Middle East, the thumbs up is offensive.
Just think of the ways the thumbs up emoji might make a mess of otherwise great content.
- A website or social media poll asking your audience to vote on a new feature for your upcoming new product with two options: thumbs up or thumbs down.
- An interactive eLearning system that seeks to motivate students with a hearty thumbs up for each correct response.
- Asking your audience to “like” you on Facebook using the Facebook “like” thumbs up icon image in marketing content aimed at a Latin American market.
- Responding to a colleague’s instant message with the thumbs up icon.
Whenever you are creating content for a multicultural audience, it’s important to think beyond the words. To avoid sending the wrong message … and better yet, to craft the strongest possible message … be sure to consider your content as a whole, including color, emoticons/emojis, and images.
Whether you’re creating a marketing campaign, a website, educational materials, or even writing a blog, your color choices can strongly influence the overall meaning of your message. Entire fields of study are dedicated to the concept of color psychology and the meanings ascribed to different colors around the world. Suffice it to say that no blog can give you a comprehensive list of the various cultural meanings of every color. So, let’s take a look at a few examples where the exact same color has very different meanings across cultures:
- Western Culture: Death and mourning
- Far Eastern Culture: Health and prosperity
- Indian Culture: Courage and love
- Middle Eastern Culture: Mourning and loss
- Western Culture: Masculine
- Far Eastern Culture: Feminine
- Western Culture: Purity and peace
- Far Eastern Culture: Mourning
- Egypt and some Latin American Cultures: Mourning
- Western Cultures: Optimism, happiness and warmth
Emoticons and Emojis
Nearly all of us use emoticons and/or emojis in writing with friends and even business colleagues. We also find these tiny images increasingly used beyond personal messaging. But different cultures around the world tend to gravitate toward different emojis. In a study of more than 1 billion emoji sent by millions of users all over the world, SwiftKey identified some interesting trends:
- Arabic speakers use flower and plant emojis four times more than average.
- French speakers love the heart emojis, using them four times more than speakers of other languages.
- Russian speakers are extremely romantic, using three times more romantic emojis than anyone else.
- Canadians use money emojis twice as often.
- Americans are the biggest users of LGBT emojis, such as rainbows and same-sex couples. 
You can appeal to your target audience by customizing emojis use to match their preferences.
Content without images is, in a word, boring. Photographs, drawings, charts, icons, and designs of all sorts bring content to life. But the wrong image has the opposite effect. Nothing kills the effectiveness of your content faster than a bad image. Unfortunately, “bad” is extremely subjective and varies wildly from culture to culture.
An example from marketing history illustrates. Most of us are familiar with Gerber baby food and its iconic image of a cherubic baby face on every jar. If you’re not, take a minute to look it up online. It’s worth the effort to truly understand the story.
When Gerber began selling its baby food – complete with the cherubic baby face on every jar – in certain places in Africa, sales plummeted. Why? Because consumers in those areas expected to see a picture of whatever was in the jar on its label. Yes. That’s right. Those consumers thought Gerber was trying to sell them jarred baby!
Understanding your target audience’s expectations and limitations when it comes to images can help avoid blunders like this one. Some top areas to consider include:
- Body modesty: what level of dress/undress is appropriate within a culture? Where a bikini-clad model might be just fine in American marketing, the same image might spark outrage in Middle Eastern cultures.
- Attitudes toward animals: Cows are sacred amongst Hindus in India. Dogs are “man’s best friend” in many Western cultures, but many Muslims consider them dirty and/or dangerous. Consider different cultures’ attitude towards animals, as well as any beliefs that might surround those animals in local cultures and/or religions.
- Pop culture: An image of a baseball player hitting a home run might not resonate as much as a soccer playing making a goal to portray success, depending on the target audience. Popular television, movies, sports, books, music, clothing, and more differ from country to country and culture to culture.
- Religious imagery and icons: Consider whether the people in the image are wearing (or not wearing) religious imagery, like a cross pendant, a Yamaka or a hijab. Also be careful when using images that are unique to one religion (like a Christmas tree) to avoid isolating important parts of your target audience.
Consider Localization Early
As in so many things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you consider the “localizability” of both the words and visuals of your content at the start, you can avoid costly re-writes at the end of your project. Want to learn more? Check out these related blogs or connect with us today!
- Global English: What Is It and Why Should You Use It?: A discussion of writing in English with translation and localization in mind.
- When Pigs Fly: Learn about the translation and localization of idioms and colloquialisms.
- Translation Quality Assessment: Quality that Fits (Beyond the Words): Take a closer look at audience, subject matter, and distribution channel/medium considerations in translation and localization.
- Translation Quality Assessment: Planning for Quality Translations: Learn ten critical success factors for content creators at the planning stage.
 Emoticons are images creating using characters on the keyboard. Emojis are actually small pictures or icons. Think 🙂 vs. ?.
 This tale of woe frequently appears on lists of the worst marketing mistakes every, like this one: https://www.business2community.com/branding/13-brand-blunders-busted-0349167.