Local Audiences Prefer Brands Who Sub Their Language

Advertisers should use subtitles rather than dubbing for foreign language adverts, according to new research from EMLYON business school.

The research found that both subtitles and dubbing were preferable to running the advert in English to non-English audiences, although subtitles were the more cost-effective option.

The study, conducted by Margherita Pagani at EMLYON with colleagues from the US and Italy, looked at adverts for Apple’s iPhone 5, Reb Bull and the Renault Clio. This was viewed by a sample of students between the ages of 18 and 25 on TV across Spain, Germany and Italy over the course of 12 months.

Researchers found adverts viewed in English were not always understood by the audience. Despite having English language skills, only 36% of viewers were able to explain their meaning.

The results also revealed that both subtitles and dubbed adverts significantly improved comprehension and positively influenced viewer’s perception of the brand in the advert.

Pagani says,

“Global companies need to communicate with an international audience. This has sparked a debate about whether it’s more effective to create one advert, which would be communicated to the entire international audience, versus adapting an advert to suit the various international communities. It’s cheaper to create one advert for the entire audience and has the added advantage of being a faster process with a message that everyone can relate to. However, this study has shown that lots of European consumers are less likely to favour a TV advert in English compared to the same ads either spoken or subtitled into their local language.”

The research also notes that the viewer’s perception of the brand is also influenced by the type of advert, and that advertisers should consider the target audience and goal of the campaign when choosing a form of communication.

Pagani continues,

“Internet-based video has made it more common and acceptable for subtitles to be included in downloaded content. Considering that subtitling can be up to 10 times cheaper than dubbing, and that this study saw no significant difference between the performances of the two methods, advertisers would benefit from embracing the cheapest form of language adaptation.”

So media buyer and planners, when advertising to a non-English speaking audience, subtitles are arguably your best bet to convey the "the flavour of the language, the mood, and the sense of a different culture" while simultaneously allowing complete linguistic comprehension. Something to consider.

Download the full paper:
Margherita Pagani, Ronald Goldsmith & Andrea Perracchio (2015): Standardization vs. adaptation: consumer reaction to TV ads containing subtitled or English dubbed ads, International Journal of Advertising: The Review of Marketing Communications

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Dabitch's picture

I hope Swedish ad agencies take note. We have long-running campaigns that are English spoken language only, which drives me nuts. English is not one of the official languages in Sweden.

kidsleepy's picture

I believe it has more to do with the culture of the country. French prefer subtitles. Italians have their own voice dubbing union and regard the voice dubbers as artists just as much as the people they're talking over, so to speak.

Dabitch's picture

I guess Swedish ad agencies writing entire campaigns in English has to do with our culture of hating our own culture (Like "Swedish doesn't sound as cool...") True about the Italians tho, I love watching dubbed ads there.

David Felton's picture

Interestingly enough, they left France out of the study because "it is an example of a country that resists the foreignization or anglicization of the local language in advertising messages." This seems to affirm what you're debating here; different countries have their own preferences that have to be taken into consideration when adapting to local markets.

Something I find personally fascinating is that when you talk to a passionate anime and manga fan, they tend to shun dubbing over subtitles at every turn. Now I've given this some consideration and concluded that it's not because they speak a word of Japanese or can even really understand the inflections in the language, but because it conveys a more authentic cultural milieu.

Dabitch's picture

Some things just need to be heard in the original language even if we don't understand it, because intonations and acting are key. Example, もしもし moshi moshi, repeated over and over....

David Felton's picture

I'm advocating the opposite - that viewers aren't picking up on the intonations and acting as much as they believe they are. That in fact it's more about seeking out that authentic experience which hasn't been adulterated and lost through translation. Although I do believe most would argue against this.