Lost in Translation: What’s Your Ideal of Beauty?

Strange advert for face cream

I’ve had this picture of a real advert for about a year now and haven’t known whether I should share it. It’s the kind of humour we British are genetically programmed to love, bless our hearts. Most of the original copies will have been recycled by now but because I can’t help looking at adverts from a return on investment perspective, and I carry my camera to record treats or  surprises, it’s preserved here. 

It would be a hot contender for the funniest gags at the Edinburgh Fringe list if it had appeared in their magazine, though looking at the winner, that’s not saying much. The reason all official British top ten jokes lists are so limp, by the way, is that the real jokes are far too rude for the British to own up to in public.

But back to this strange find. A busy marketeer – presumably not a native speaker of English – overlooked the third claim when approving this face cream advert from Swiss Air’s Duty Free Magazine. I do feel a hint of sorrow for their mortification when someone pointed this out, but the flaws in the advert are more deep rooted than the translation. If only we had a miracle cream guaranteed to cure the visible signs of lax thinking!

I can’t believe I’m the only one who enjoys seeing the beauty in older faces. You might expect the brief for this image would specify a mature model with a few wrinkles, not a younger one with perfect, possibly airbrushed, skin.

Has the advert persuaded you that the face cream has miraculously reduced this model’s wrinkles and dark spots, and increased her skin’s… er… clamping force? Me neither!

If she’s too young to show us the benefits of the product, why was she chosen? Because this is how we’re going to look if we buy the cream? Because our concept of beauty is so limited that it must be encased in glass?

I’ll never understand why the beauty in older or ‘less perfect’ faces is not more widely celebrated. We don’t rule out beauty in old animals, trees, buildings or antiques – quite the opposite. We sense that age adds something. The camera loves older faces (and objects) just as much as young ones: I feel the same.

Yes, I use cream to screen my skin from the sun, and to feed it nutrients, but just a tip: if you’re advertising to me, don’t try to con me, don’t insult my intelligence and don’t imply that only a youthful face has beauty.

I can’t claim always to have been clear sighted – like almost everyone reading this, I remember a time when 19 year olds looked ancient. If that doesn’t give us some sense of perspective, nothing can. Perhaps as a result of finding myself more interested in photography and visuals, or of getting that bit older myself, I came round to appreciating the warmer, less imperious beauty of age. It’s been a real blessing.

I couldn’t show the advert without making this point, but I’m not here to lecture – either you get it or you don’t. I feel sure my regular readers do.

So I’ll take a deep breath (in with anger… out with love…) and move on to a more innocuous, but similarly flawed translation I discovered on an airline snack:

Cheese bites

The pack is littered with a plethora of promotional claims, each vying with the other for our attention. Let’s break down the phrase ‘real crispy desirable taste’. These delicious cheese bites have:

  • A real taste?
  • A crispy taste?
  • A desirable taste?

Mmm. Nice try – very enthusiastic – it sounds plausible, but for me it’s a ‘could do better’.

As long as international marketeers use English as a one-size-fits-all language, native English speakers are guaranteed a few giggles when their efforts strain at the seams. I suppose the real miracle is that so few of them slip through the net. If you’ve spotted one or have a pet advertising peeve of your own, let me know.

Hang on – just remembered I forgot to apply my Complete Care plus multi-radiance cream – must dash! 🙂

9 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: What’s Your Ideal of Beauty?

  1. Kalamain says:

    Am I the only one that wondered if, because they included the “clamping”, that this would be a cream for *ahem* the ladies? *wink* B-)

    Also… For me the biggest peeve would be “Bifidus Digestivum”. *sigh* yes… I get it. It’s a made up word that sounds all sciency (is that then a word?) but it’s so annoying. I’m not stupid. It’s a modified type of gut bacteria that you have created that does a job. That’s all you need to tell me. I don’t need a “miracle” or anything.

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  2. A. I. Sajib says:

    I don’t think the person who approved this advert didn’t know what he was doing. This is the standard today. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely not non-Photoshopped, but somehow, this works among the consumers. People believe those model look like the adverts in real life, even though they know they go through many layers of makeup and post-processing after the fact.

    Ad-agencies would do whatever works best, right? Maybe that’ll change in the coming days as more people begin to realize that it’s almost too perfect of a skin. Maybe in a decade or two, these kinds of adverts will become obsolete and funny. As for the time being, this works.

    This is what I woke up to this morning.

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  3. susurrus says:

    I do know what you mean and thanks for the great clipping. I spotted another engineering term ‘Torque’ on it, towards the top left. Perhaps that explains how we ended up with the (very inappropriate) translation ‘loss of clamping force’. Torque is not a word we would expect to see on a skin care advert either!

    English is a funny language, with so many alternative words for pretty much (but not exactly) the same thing. It must make it very difficult for translators to understand what is and isn’t suitable for a particular context. We do understand what was intended by clamping force (skin tautness) but it will still raise a smile in most native speakers.

    I’ve not visited India (so far), but in Japan I was interested to see so many English words used on adverts and signs with slightly different meanings. It shouldn’t be a surprise – after all English has absorbed and altered so many words from other languages.

    Thanks for stopping by – it’s good to catch up with you. Are you going to be helping folks in BloggingU this season or are you busy engineering happiness some other way?

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