Chartered Institute
of Linguists

Phee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of a marketing man

“There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.” These words were famously uttered by Nanny McPhee. 

Had they been given credence by the adult world, they would have struck fear into the hearts of marketing men. Because our consumeristic drooling over cashmere blankets, pure Sicilian sumac or self-sharpening kitchen knives is mainly based on desire, not need. There is much linguistic abuse here: need equals want and want equals need. All too frequently we claim that we need something when we actually just want it. Yet semantically the difference is clear. We need water, rest, shelter, wholesome food - these are our necessities and they cost little or nothing.  We want heated swimming pools, induction hobs, Jimmy Choos and a flame-red Lamborghini – these do not qualify as needs, except in the very loose sense of a requisite that will improve our psychological well-being.  But when was the last time you saw an advert for plain bread, potatoes or tap water? Not once, I’m willing to bet. If they advertise bread, it is always packaged, sliced and stuffed with phenomenal preservatives. Only Nanny McPhee is interested in our few needs, the rest of the world competes for our desires. Some of us are actually willing to sacrifice our needs for our desires, surviving on boiled carrots and jam sandwiches for weeks in order to save up for something juicy from net-à-porter.  

Companies usually spend between 7% and 15% on product marketing, but really successful companies will even spend as much as 40% of their revenues.  Coca Cola spends 20% of its turnover in advertising costs. Although it is an established brand, little differentiates it from Pepsi Cola. Pepsi and other soft drink giants like Fanta and Seven Up are a constant threat so it is important to keep appealing to the public with engaging adverts which more often than not are unrelated to the product itself. One of Coca Cola’s greatest marketing successes was the Father Christmas ad. Naturally, Santa Claus was not invented by Coca Cola, but they certainly cemented his image as a tubby figure in a red coat with a white trim (devised to match the brand colours of Coca Cola). At the time (in the 1920s) the company wanted to boost sales, especially in winter because it hadn’t occurred to the average American to drink a cold beverage outside summer, but the sales department also wanted to attract children. Bingo! Two birds with one stone thanks to the highly popular Father Christmas ad which soon had small members of the family begging for coca cola with the Christmas turkey. All of Coca Cola’s Christmases had come at once! 

To learn more about marketing stealth, join Katherine’s workshop on “Translating Marketing Texts”. You will: 

• Instantly tell the difference between an ordinary text and a marketing text 

• Know how to deal with a marketing text and approach it in the right way 

• Understand how marketing texts are crafted and what their purpose is 

• Learn what tools are available to you as a translator of marketing texts 

• Acquire new ways to release and boost your creativity