It is no surprise that each year more advertisers are turning to bilingual and foreign language advertising to market their products. According to U.S. census data, over 55 million Americans speak a language other than English in the home. Spanish language advertising, in particular, has increased over the years, in response to the growth of the Spanish-speaking audience: Hispanics constituted 17 percent of the nation’s total population and had a current spending power of about $1.4 trillion as of 2014.

In light of these marketing and advertising trends, we thought it would be helpful to publish a quick list of tips to remember when disseminating an advertising message in a foreign language. 

Advice to Keep in Mind When Advertising in a Foreign Language

Tip #1 – Online Translators Are Not Always the Best Option

Automated translators are great for a lot of things. However, they should not be relied on by an advertiser who is translating ad campaign materials. Sometimes certain phrases cannot be translated word for word from one language to another and retain their meaning. One word can make a big difference. You could end up with a t-shirt that reads “I saw the potato” (la papa) instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa).

Sometimes different countries (or even regions within the same country!) that speak the same language use different words to mean the same thing. This is especially true with Spanish. For example, the word popcorn is translated as crispetas in Colombia, palomitas in Mexico, and poporopo in Guatemala (but wait, there’s more). Thus, when translating ads into any language, particularly Spanish, it is recommended that the ads adopt a neutral accent and use generally understood terminology, as opposed to any regional and country-specific dialects.

As a result, it is strongly recommended that advertisers have someone familiar with or fluent in the language review all advertising claims to ensure (1) that they make sense and (2) that they accurately advertise the product or service.

Tip #2 – Do Your Research

As with any marketing strategy, advertisers should also make sure that their translated ads are targeting the right audience and sending the right message. This is especially important in the Hispanic and Latino community, which is made up of many subgroups, each with different characteristics that can affect consumer behavior and engagement opportunities. There is no “one size fits all” approach to reaching Hispanic and Latino consumers. Younger generations of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States, for example, may actually be used to, and prefer, receiving advertising in English, whereas older generations may prefer to receive marketing information in Spanish, and still others may prefer “Spanglish.”

It is, therefore, always a good idea to first research and consider: (1) who makes up the target audience; (2) whether your advertisements should be translated; and (3) how much of your message should be translated and how it should be done, particularly when targeting consumers in the Hispanic and Latino community in the United States.

Tip #3 – All Claims Must Be Compliant

The fact that an advertisement is in a different language does not mean that it is exempt from compliance with state and federal consumer protection laws. Claims translated into a foreign language must still be true and accurate and be supported by adequate substantiation. Likewise, if an advertisement is presented to consumers in a foreign language, any material disclosures must be presented to them in the same language.

Tip #4 – The Federal Trade Commission Is Still Paying Attention

The FTC has not shied away from scrutinizing non-English advertising campaigns and has, in fact, gone after marketers for false and deceptive claims made in Spanish. The FTC has also translated over 100 of its own publications into Spanish and created a Spanish-language version of its own website (, through which it solicits consumer complaints.

In 2004, the FTC also started the Hispanic Law Enforcement and Outreach Initiative, designed to address deceptive advertising aimed at Spanish-speaking consumers and to identify advertising for law enforcement actions. In 2006, the Commission sent letters to the owners and operators of 40 television and radio stations in markets that included Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Chicago, and New York, which informed the stations that they had aired ads in Spanish that the FTC believed to be false and deceptive.

Tip #5 – States Have Their Own Laws

Like the FTC, states are also paying attention to non-English marketing. A majority of states have enacted some form of regulation, typically in the form of home or telephone solicitation laws, which requires marketers to provide the underlying contract or sale documents to consumers in the language that was used in the sales presentation. The sale of different services, such as consumer credit products, may also be subject to more stringent advertising regulations.


In sum, if you’re a marketer and you want to avoid a potentially costly enforcement action or you just want to steer clear of a #TranslationFail, it’s best to have someone familiar with the language review the claims to make sure you are actually promoting your airline’s leather seats and not telling your customers to “Fly Naked!”  And if you’re more of a visual person and want to see a similar presentation on this topic by Laura at our recent 3rd Annual Advertising Symposium, look below or click here.