Informal or Formal Registers: Which is Suitable for Marketing Materials?

Category: Marketing

One of the first things businesses need to decide about when creating new marketing materials is what brand image they wish to portray. There has been a trend in recent years in this regard, to switch from formal language to a more informal, friendly mode of communication between businesses and consumers. With so much of our lives now online, many of us prefer to engage with shorter, easy to digest advertising over the previous formal, face-to-face conversations that used to be employed to close sales.

Consequently, understanding market trends is now just part of the equation. In translating marketing materials, each regional market has its own cultural norms and linguistic expectations. How to know which level of formality is appropriate for your new target audience, and how will your marketing strategy be adapted to each new environment?

Get to Know Your Audience

One of the first questions any linguist will ask you is who are you marketing to, and why. The importance of this question cannot be emphasised enough. Where your marketing material will be used, as well as who your potential consumers are within this market will determine the level of formality you should apply to address your new potential customers. As always, even subtle cultural nuances and social contexts need to be considered when localising any text, particularly those destined for marketing use.

Another important step is to determine which platforms you intend to market in your new languages. Understandably, marketing on social media sites tends to lean more towards an informal register, focusing on a younger demographic that prefers a more casual tone. There is even evidence to suggest that it is precisely this shift towards digital communication that has led to the increased use of informal language.


Grammar plays a significant role in setting the right tone for marketing copy in many regions. English is one of the most straightforward languages in which to write compelling market copy for varying audiences; the grammar used to address potential clients is the same, regardless of the intended level of formality. Being able to use ‘you’ to refer to everyone has undeniable advantages, but can cause difficulties when it comes to the translation of marketing materials into other languages that have different grammatical rules depending on the register in which you wish to speak to your audience.

There are many examples of this crucial difference throughout the world, most notably in many European languages. In Hungarian, there are three ways in which you might address a person directly; the informal te, and the more formal choices of ön or maga. Even within these rules, there can be differences of opinion as to which is more appropriate in the given setting. Likewise, French and Spanish, amongst others, pose similar obstacles in deciding how best to address your target market.

No Two Languages Are The Same

Then we come to the situations in which the structure of an entire language can vary quite considerably based on the level of formality your business wishes to uphold. While marketing trends are largely heading towards more casual, informal language in many places, in others, a certain level of formality is still required. In Japan, there are multiple levels of formal language rather than the usual two tiers many of us are used to. While many businesses have abandoned the use of the most formal style of address in order to seem more approachable, their marketing materials still need to remain at the next level of formality in order to be deemed polite enough. This means that any informal source marketing copy must be properly localised into a more polite tone for this particular region, or risk failing to connect with the Japanese market.

Consistency Across Communications

Although it may seem obvious, ensuring consistency across your marketing communications in any given language is vital to projecting an appropriate brand image in that linguistic market. All too often, mistakes get made when businesses have different marketing communications in varying formal registers, thus inadvertently giving a very unpolished appearance to the potential consumer. This can easily happen when numerous translators are used for marketing translations, and should thus be avoided by ensuring all language professionals are briefed on the preferred tone of your brand in each individual language, and then sticking to that!

Cater to the Needs of Your Customers

We all know by now how investing in excellent multilingual marketing can pay dividends in getting customers’ attention. Everyone prefers to be marketed to in their own language and, naturally, expect a level of fluency that is free of error. None of us are enticed by a marketing campaign that contains spelling mistakes or translation errors, we want to feel as though we are being spoken to directly by each company and that our unique needs and interests have been taken into account.

Cultivate Good Translation Partnerships

Trust in your translation provider to understand the requirements of your new market, and allow them the necessary flexibility to properly adapt your marketing to connect with your potential consumers. Native-speaking linguists will have invaluable insight into how to tackle this complex issue, in a way that best meets your business goals.

This is especially true when it comes to the register in which you choose to “speak” to your consumers. Each local market has its own cultural rhetoric, social norms, and linguistic expectations and need different marketing materials. The key to success lies in appreciating these differences and tailoring your promotional materials so as to resonate with as many people as possible in your new target audience.

Albion Languages


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