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Jack Willhoft studied German and philosophy at the then University of North Staffs. (now Keele University). He's been living in Germany since 1959 and has worked as a freelance translator from German into English since 1980, specialising in advertising copy and business presentations

Before that he worked in various corporate advertising departments (mainly capital goods). His hobbies include collecting slogans.

email: Jwillhoft@CompuServe.com

tel (49) 2131 475832

fax (49) 2131 475759


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AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/8

Translator Jack Willhoft
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Not In Too Many German Ads!

By Jack Willhoft

© 2000 Jack Willhoft

English in German Ads

For some time now English has been infiltrating German advertising copy much to the outrage of older generations. Even though English is not as widely spoken in Germany as in smaller countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, and almost all movies are dubbed into German, rather than subtitled, English words are frequently used in German advertising copy and slogans.

German adpersons call slogans 'claims', I suppose in the sense that the seller is making a claim about a product.

As far as I know there are no official bodies in Germany entrusted with combatting this English-language trend and certainly (in contrast to some other countries) no laws exist prohibiting the use of English by the media. There is, however, a society for the protection of the German language and every month it publishes instances of the spread of English into German marketing and advertising copy. (One of the most notorious instances of English in recent years has been the word 'handy' which in German, and only in German, is the standard term for a mobile phone).


Volkswagen advertises on German TV "Der New Beetle". The word 'new' does not exist in the German language and so the headline is simply a mixture of two languages. And why use the term 'Beetle' when the German 'Kĺfer' is just as appropriate in conjuring up nostalgic associations?

"We know how to entertain you" is a line used by KirchGruppe, a media enterprise. Here the bossy tonality seems somewhat off-key in comparison with slogans used elsewhere in the industry -- "entertaining the world" or "always entertaining," or "entertainment in every sense." Possibly "knowing how to entertain you" might have sounded less insistent.

There's a major German electricity supplier called 'Yello Strom GmBH', Note that the word 'yellow' is without the 'w'. 'Strom' literally means 'current' or 'torrent'. Its advertising is based on the idea that if electricity had a colour it would be yellow (backed up by passer-by interviews shown in the TV commercials). Hence the 'yello electricity' which is "yellow, good and low cost." As one would expect, the colour yellow is featured generously in all the ads and commercials.

Any association with 'cowardly' or 'yellow journalism' is ignored -- it might not be obvious to non-native copywriters!

Translation Problems

Sometimes a slogan devised by a non-native speaker may fail because of certain connotations. A case in point was a campaign prepared for a computer company showing a couple dancing and the headline "Hardware meets software." The campaign was soon discarded because of possible associations.

One of many English words much in favour with German copywriters at present is 'highlights', along with accompanying firework-type visuals. The word in a German context carries more force and associative impact than it would in English. To quote a German copywriter: "When I'm stuck for a headline I simply string together some words in English and that normally does the trick." [Don't we all! Ed.]

A case of a global company creating its own German-language slogan is Ford's "Die tun was" (they're doing something about things, not just sitting around doing nothing) and virtually untranslatable with such conciseness and impact. An instance of a slogan faithfully and skillfully translated from the original is the UPS line "Gesagt. Getan." (in English "Consider it done").It's not always possible to transpose a slogan from one language into another simply by a literal translation of each of the words. Take the magazine STERN. In German "Der STERN bewegt." A literal translation is "STERN magazine moves." However, this fails to convey the connotations of the German, that the magazine "doesn't leave its readers unmoved," "gets things moving." Words with the same denotation obviously have dissimilar connotations in different languages.

German for Germans?

A leading German household appliance manufacturer has used the slogan "Designed for your family" for its international advertising. A literal translation of the German used in Germany "Wir geháren zur Familie" states "A member/part of the family" or simply "We're family." Here is perhaps an instance where a more literal transposition might have more impact.

A slogan that purports to sound very professional yet grammatically seems to be skating on thin ice is "The people who make systems on silicon work for you." A case of a neat juxtaposition is "Come in and find out" as featured by Douglas, a leading perfume store chain in Germany whilst "Science + soul" sloganed by the chemical company Henkel seems coldly calculating. "Science4life" used by another organization in Germany has more warmth. "The future. Together. Now." from an insurance company seems more at home in a pop context. "The bright side of Freizeit" is a neat example combining and rhyming words in both languages.

To summarize, I feel that German advertisers would do better using slogans in their own language at least when addressing Germans in Germany. Obviously if a product is destined for an international audience English is preferable as the slogan language ("Don't imitate, innovate", Hugo Boss fragrances). The argument that English is better suited for slogan writing only applies if the slogan is well written and many are not. Even if they were, they might not always be readily appreciable by non-native speakers. The argument that English is the language of today's German youth is only of relevance for products that are solely intended for that segment of the population.

Finally there's the German slogan used by German carmaker Audi in advertisements appearing in England--"Vorsprung durch Technik"-- which for non-German speakers will sound more mysteriously meaningful than the mundane "ahead through engineering."


12 English-language claims supporting
German-language ads in Germany

Your specialist in chemistry.


We provide access.

Deutsche Börse

What a difference!

Eduard Dressler

The natural choice.


We're all connected.


Science + Soul.


We know how to entertain you.


In motion.


Automotive future.


Are you ready for transaction?


The bright side of Freizeit.


Enjoy the new dimension of SAP solutions.


AdSlogans.com -- Wise Words/8


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