Simply Translating An Ad Into Another Language Doesn’t Always Do The Job

As a student and to-be professional, I start my days checking in with various industry publications and newsletters to be up to date on all the creative and technical news in the industry. My favorite go-to sources of information are: Adweek, ADC, Mashable, IHaveAnIdea, Social Media Today, Advertising Age, Wallpaper, Print, How, Communications Arts, Design Week, Art Director’s Club (which membership you should get, because it’s one of the best hands-on organizations in the world for design inspirations, portfolio nights, networking events, and latest design-across-all-medium exhibitions and news), Inspiration Feed, Enfused, Designers & Books (for the latest reads), Behance/Dribble (for the latest portfolio uploads of my design ‘comrades’ across the world). Yes, it’s a very overwhelming list…

Being a big fan of the advertising industry, since the first time I saw an old ad “Think Small” for VW bug, I love reading about various agencies around the world and learning about their work. I just recently came across a great article by IHaveAnIdea about Havas Worldwide Switzerland ad agency, which talked about the ‘corporate’ culture of their agency and how they approach many aspects of their projects and clients. I found it extremely interesting and much of it ‘spoke very closely’ to how I picture an ideal creative environment of an ad agency.

Simply translating an ad from one tongue to another doesn’t always do the job…

For many years, the philosophy of Havas Switzerland has been:

Creating Results, Creating Future

Agency transparency: Saying no to “agency style”

According to the agency’s creative director, creatives, especially young ones, are very informed here in Switzerland. “Agencies are fairly transparent, and there are many events here where young people can meet with agencies and find out what they’re like. For us, there are a few things we focus on when speaking to people. One, we make an effort to ensure we don’t have an ‘agency style’.

Being a rock star is not enough

“We also want creatives who know that advertising is a business, and thus it has to be efficient. If you’re the type who wants to be a rock star and focus on winning awards, that’s great but not enough. Of course we strive to do work that does well at award shows, but not at the expense of precision, of speed, of business results. That means we want creatives who understand how their creativity could help to drive business.”

Flexibility is King

Havas Zurich has about 40 employees, with another 20 in their office in Geneva. In both locations, creatives make up a bit less than half of those numbers. Amongst them are copywriters and art directors, but none of them are tied down to one another. “Switzerland has never really followed that team structure that you find in the US, the UK, or even nearby Germany. I think has more to do with the size of the market. Because we are small, we have to be very nimble. Flexibility is King here, and by not having assigned teams, we can move things around very quickly.”

Few all-agency meetings:

Why wasting time when more creative thinking and working could have been done in meantime, right? And this is how this agency thinks.

“We find that whenever you bring the whole agency together to talk business, you end up talking about things that take away from the time you need to spend on your own assignments. Instead the creatives and their respective accounts people and strategists are given the autonomy to meet up when it’s most convenient, with the ‘suits’ serving as project managers, keeping the creatives in line, on time and on budget”.

This process tends to keep the agency going home at decent hours. “Occasionally we work late, but when we do, it’s an all-hands-on-deck atmosphere. “We don’t expect people to be just present, we expect great ideas. And if you are talented and well organized you’ll find them the smart way, not the hard way. The quality of life in Zurich makes people want to maintain a good work-life balance. Life seems to be so pleasant that nobody wants to shake that up by devoting all of your energy towards more work.”

Dealing with multiple -language audiences

Simply translating an ad into another language doesn’t always do the job. You might as well just use Google Translate and, as as a result, loose a client… I know it first-hand, having worked as a journalist for Russian News bureau at the American news broadcasting organization Voice of America. Any news and/or article produced in Russian had to be absolutely re-written in English, NOT translated, using appropriate idioms and etc. in that particular language. And this is how Havas Zurich approaches its national languages – Switzerland ‘speaks’ four languages:

“The dominant language here in Zurich is German, and so most of our work begins in that language. We can then translate it into French or Italian or English.” (Note:  you almost never see Swiss ads written in Romansh, Switzerland’s fourth official language, spoken by less than 1% of the populace.) But simply translating an ad from one tongue to another doesn’t always do the job. “People who live in the French parts of Switzerland can often tell when an ad was originally created for a German audience. French ads tend to be more lighthearted and playful than German ones, and Italian ones tend to have more expressive, emotional voices than their German counterparts, and both seem to use more cartoons and animation over German ads.” While there’s no “cure-all” for this situation, Havas Zurich has had the most success by focusing on visual solutions that can bridge all language and culture barriers.

Have a Creative Day

An in-the-office brainstorming session is not enough.

Once a year, the creative departments of both the Zurich and Geneva offices come together for an offsite meeting aptly named Creative Day, a full day of reflection on the past and planning for the future, ending with dinner and drinks for all. Each year there is a theme to the day; past themes have included “We Must Be Crazy” and “Goodbye Double Page Spread”. It’s also interesting to note that Creative Day happens in English, a neutral language for German heavy Zurichers and the francophone Genevois.

Of course once a year is too long to wait for inspiration, and so Havas Zurich has other activities to keep the creative juices flowing. The first Thursday of every month has been dubbed “Thursday Club”, where people share cool items of interest with their peers, from amazing new technologies they’ve heard about to upcoming exhibits and other cultural events taking place around town. And while the agency doesn’t like to have lots of agency wide meetings, they do call one every other month or so to announce new hires, amazing new client wins and awards, and other big news. Finally, to fill in the gaps between these meetings, Havas Zurich likes to take the staff out for fun, with everything from mountain hikes to go-karting.

So what does the future hold for Havas Zurich?


There are many conversations in the industry of where the advertising is going, but I’m only concerned about the creative part of it. I, personally, want to know, what is the future of clients-agency co-existence? What’s happening with the traditional ad work?

Last night I had a conversation from someone who used to design such publications as Business Week, Time, Convene, Shape, and Snap – a veteran of many years working in publication design, who said that as a graphic designer (and/or art director) working for a publishing house, it’s not enough anymore to just know the format of a layout of a print version of the publication, that each print page has to be re-designed for the tablets formats (smart phones, iPads, etc.) Thus, a graduating student should now not only know how to create a magazine you physically buy at a store shelf, but also know how to adapt it to the digital versions, including the spacing for the ads and such. Here’s what Havas Zurich says about the future of the advertising:

“This industry is challenged by technological and cultural changes at such a rapid pace that it’s so hard to say. There will be more co-working. We see this already at the interface towards the consumer who is co-constructing brand experiences. And this could happen with agencies and their clients, too. More together, less against. More at-the-same-time, less one-thing-after-the-other. Because of this, even in an era of tight timelines and tighter budgets, I have faith that what we have going on here will continue to thrive.”

Source:, here.

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