International Copywriting — The Who, What, Why and How

spn_exclusive1So there I was, living in West Australia and doing a journalism internship at a local newspaper. My lunch breaks were spent in 40-degree heat on the sandy white beach that my office sat upon, while my evenings consisted of attending whisky tasting sessions, local arts performances and guided tours of luxury cruise liners. So why, for the love of God, why, did I leave it all behind for a career in copywriting?

As you can well imagine, it wasn’t because I disliked the lifestyle. Rather, it was the writing style that stifled me. While the content that I found myself writing about was exciting (bomb scares, drug overdoses, the R18+ video game age rating campaigns) the writing style was just so dry. As a naturally creative person, I found solace only in the occasional editorial pieces that landed on my desk and gave me slightly freer reign over my pen.

As a journalist you find yourself writing for the lowest common denominator, which means that you must use limited vocabulary, simple sentences and an objective point of view. With copywriting, you’re writing for a target audience, which allows you to adapt your style accordingly, requiring a greater degree of creativity. Instead of operating as a one-trick pony, it involves more of a show horse approach.

A Day in the Life

As a copywriter for an international online marketing company I’m now required to write for a variety of different audiences across a vast range of industries. One day can see me writing for b2b companies within the intralogistics industry in the morning while, in the afternoon, I’ll be writing for the predominantly teenage audience of a popular online social game. One day I might be writing an article or a PR and the following day I could be working within the medium of social media, websites, or PPC ads. Thus, I am able to employ an assortment of different writing styles throughout the day.

Working for an international company makes the diversity of skill sets required for a copywriter even broader. Operating in English, I am not only tasked with writing for the UK market, but also for those who speak English as a secondary language. This demands an enhanced understanding of the needs and particularities of a broad range of different markets around the world. Writing for a native English speaker is not the same as writing for somebody with a high level of English as his or her second language, and some expressions that might sound natural to a native speaker will sound very bizarre to a non-native. This is what, for me, makes my job so interesting — instead of writing in one medium for the same demographic, I am able to write in several different mediums for a broad range of different audiences.

Great, But What is International Copywriting?

So what exactly does international copywriting entail? Firstly, one must remember that international copywriting, as a profession, does not actually exist. It is impossible for one person to copywrite for a truly international market because one person alone cannot possess the amount of language skills and regional knowledge required to write for such a diverse range of markets. The second thing to bear in mind is that international copywriting is not the same as multilingual copywriting. A multilingual copywriting project might involve preparing website copy for the Portuguese, German and French markets. International copywriting, on the other hand, could involve copywriting a website for the Portuguese, Brazilian-Portuguese, German, Austrian, French and French-Canadian markets. Even though there are only three distinct languages here, there are six different markets and they all have their own linguistic and cultural nuances; a native French copywriter is unlikely to be able to adequately copywrite for the French-Canadian market due to this. To truly speak to your target market, you must be aware of these subtleties and the only way to do this is to use a professional team of native speakers.

Brilliant! So How Do You Do it?

What most people do not realize is that the process of international copywriting is not simply writing in one language followed by translation into the rest. This is not the ideal way to perform international copywriting. This is because the act of copywriting always follows market research — a phase in which the marketers and writers determine what the wants and needs of the target market are. What do they value? Low prices? High quality? Loyal service? This shapes the copywriting process and allows us to also create writing guidelines to establish how to best speak to our markets. Translating this content neglects this whole process — what good is translation if you don’t know what exactly it is that your market is looking for? It would be a grave error to assume that the market of the target language values the same things as the market of the source language.

This is why, ideally, international copywriting should not be divided into two distinct phases; the copywriting process should be carried out simultaneously in each language. This allows the copywriters to collaborate and identify the wants of (and differences between) each market. Knowing the differences between the requirements of each market allows us to better define and identify the copywriting style for our own market. Working in multiple languages simultaneously gives us the opportunity to identify issues that may not be easily noticeable in one language. For example, in English we have a number of irregular nouns, which have the same singular and plural forms — an example of this is ‘glasses.’ However, when copywriting in German there is a difference between a pair of glasses (‘eine Brille’) and multiple pairs of glasses (‘einige Brillen’). In a recent example, this rendered the question of whether the product page was in fact for a pair of glasses, or for multiple pairs of glasses — we were able to liaise with the client to solve this issue and proceed accordingly.  This demonstrates how the shared knowledge of international copywriting can actually improve the quality of localized copywriting, because this may not have been spotted in languages with irregular nouns.

So I may not get to spend my lunch breaks on beautiful white sandy beaches anymore, but I do get to touch every corner of the world in some way each and every day and, if you ask me, that’s much more exciting.

Ryan Neal is a copywriter with MO Group International. MO Group International has experience in both international online marketing and website translation, making it the ideal choice for your multilingual and international marketing solutions. Contact us today to find out how we can give you the power to reach your target markets.

About the author


Ryan Neal

Ryan Neal is a copywriter with MO Group International. At MO Group International our professionals are experienced in community management, international SEO and social media, working in more than 40 different languages and possessing the tools and experience to design a campaign to boost your online presence and allow you to get the most out of digital resources. Get noticed with MO Group International.