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Translation vs Localization in Google Ads; or, An Ode to Poutine

french bulldog with red wine and baguette and french beret hat, isolated on white background

If you’ve ever tried to drop a sick pun with a relative whose first language isn’t English, you will understand the importance of conveying the more subtle meanings behind words. With the magic of the internet we can now type familiar or foreign phrases into Google and receive an instant translation in any language you want–some of them not even real languages . This is a wonderful resource when a well-meaning Aunt from Quebec sends you a birthday card, and you haven’t spoken French since Grade 6. The general gist behind what tante Laurence is saying can be mine in seconds! The problem is that as amazing as Google Translate is, it has limitations. The French employed is Parisian French, not Quebecois French, meaning some local words or phrases could be completely lost.

Maybe tante Laurence had some phenomenal poutine down the road with some of the best cheese curds around. She might say:

“J’ai mangé la meilleure poutine avec les meilleurs fromages kwik kwik!”


“J’ai mangé la meilleure poutine avec les best fromages kwik kwik ever!”

If I try feeding these phrases through Google Translate I get the following:

“I ate the best poutine with the best kwik kwik cheeses!”

A bowl of homemade poutine, a Canadian dish made with fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds.

Now thankfully I know what poutine is –the food of the gods– so I can make an educated guess at what is being said. If I was to show it to a friend who had never heard of poutine, a tragedy, they might have a harder time understanding what’s going on. Like the translator, they don’t know that kwik kwik is not a word on its own but an onomatope for the squeaky sound cheese curds make. At the end of the day I can fumble along, but the card will make more sense if have my dad read it to me.

Lets run with this analogy and say I’m a polite niece and I want to write a card back to my aunt to say thank you and ask for the address to that amazing poutine place (I don’t care if it’s unbelievable, I can behave however I want in my analogy). One option I have is to write up my reply, pop it into Google Translate, and send my card. Tante Laurence knows my French is not, how you say, “très bien”, so she is sure to forgive the grammar and stiff wording. Most (if not all) of the words would be correct(ish), but I would need to avoid plays-on-words, slang, or region specific sayings. My card wouldn’t have the same flow and personal touch as having my dad sit down with me and help me write it out, or if he was to write a message of his own. There is nothing wrong with using a translator to convey my gratitude, but at the end of the day it’s not the best option and lacks that personal “je ne sais quoi”.

So lets take my card example and apply it to advertising with Google Ads. Suppose a client approaches us with a request for some French advertising, we have two options:

1) Give the account to me, let me run my ad copy through Google’s available Translator Toolkit, and do the best I can with my admittedly limited understanding of the French language, or . . .

2) Give the account to one of my fluently French co-workers.

The quality of the work would be infinitely different. My ads would not necessarily be wrong but it would not be the best option to meet customers where they are at, and that will influence the results of our campaigns.

Google itself understands this, and while they make the translation software available they are the first to admit, it’s not an ideal situation.

Advertising in a second, third or fourth language can be a great option if your business has the audience for it, but to do it right it can’t be a copy and paste affair. Care, thought, and that ever important human touch is vital to make sure that you are getting your message, not just your words to your customer.

Lucky for our loyal clients, we have a number of team members fluent in other languages. If your agency can’t talk the talk–in multiple languages, then maybe it’s time to contact and get with an agency that can.


Bilingual Marketing Agency, Google Ads

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