Savings From Often-forgotten Language Settings
Mar 15, 2023
In this article we outline how to prevent significant marketing losses from under-utilized language settings in digital media. This is one of the most unambiguous and easy-to-implement wins you can deliver as the Head of Media for your company. Based on big data sets from global advertisers and media houses it is also one of the most missed opportunities. It is a mistake encouraged by the way we organize our media departments and incentivize ourselves. Making sure that your language targeting is aligned with the language in your copy can often yield around 6% and up to 15% in saved budgets.
Our main job in Adfidence is to help global advertisers make the most out of their digital budgets. We usually do it by automatically reviewing thousands of ongoing ads against pre-agreed Best Practices (BPs). One of the most impactful BPs is making sure that your ads are targeted to people who can understand and appreciate the language in which the advertising copy (be it video, image or text).
While Adfidence relies on ensuring clients’ media compliance with dozens of Best Practices this is the BP we often start our client conversations with. There are three main reasons for their interest. · First, in today's world, where professionals often disagree on the correct direction and offer conflicting theories, this rule is hard to argue with. If your target audience member does not understand what you are saying or is not happy that you are using a language different to his or her preferred one, you are wasting money on this communication. · Second, the frequency with which it still occurs is surprisingly high. Moreover, when it occurs it translates to significant damage. So addressing this area usually results in major value opportunities for our clients. · Third, it is relatively easy to eliminate the mistakes going forward. Checking the language of the copy and aligning audience targeting is an easy task that can be automated. Even when it is not a perfect process and set-up occasionally slips, our software will keep sending key people friendly reminders.
The degree of the issue depends on a platform. Some force you to select a language. Others like Google leave it up to the person creating the campaign. In our experience from global advertisers and media houses as much as half of the Google campaigns were missing the language setting. A huge opportunity. The mistake is usually highly correlated with the organization in charge. Some companies or units have 90-100% compliance. Many have 0%.
You are indeed right to be surprised why violating this Best Practice still happens in the 2020s. It seems like a basic idea that should have been fixed decades ago. One reason is organizational. Media agencies often rely on people who rotate among projects even on a weekly basis. Mistakes and omissions are common. Creative copies are usually files received from another company that are uploaded with little study on what is in them. Simplified assumptions that everybody in for example Italy speaks Italian are easy to be made and popular. While quietly ignoring minorities, tourists, or people in transit. Another reason the lack of proper language setting still persists today is rewarding media employees with simple KPIs like lower CPM. There is no easier way to lower CPM than to ignore impression quality and target broadly across the board.
In what countries does the issue matter the most? There are three main groups. The first one relates to multi-language countries or countries with major minorities. The second one relates to places with heavy tourist inflow or other passenger traffic like transit, for example major airport hubs or significant ground pass-through. The third one is related to heavy VPN usage.
When it comes to multi-language countries or countries with major minorities, there are lots of major examples. Starting from the obvious places like Canada, where 20-25% of citizens prefer French to English and at least 2% speak neither English nor French. Switzerland is said to be about 63% German, 23% French and 8% Italian. It also has a large English-speaking expat community. Belgium is mostly split between Dutch/Flemish (about 60%) and French (40%). And there are many antagonisms between the users of the two languages. But even in the United States relying on English across the board is incorrect. As many as 22% of Americans speak a non-English language at home. The Spanish-speaking community is estimated at about 13% of the population.
Countries with heavy tourist inflow, major transit or large business traffic are also plentiful. If you are an American enjoying your one-week holidays on a Portuguese beach, there is no point in showing you ads in Portuguese. And the world is full of holiday destinations. It also has major traffic hubs like airports with millions of foreigners changing planes in transit.
Lastly, VPN plays an important role. Many companies use regional or global VPN hubs. If you are a consultant in one of the major companies in Europe your laptop’s internet traffic may well all go through the Netherlands. That does not mean you will benefit from ads in Dutch.
So how big is the phenomenon globally? The following table goes through the world's top 10 economies. It shows the percentage of Facebook and Instagram and Messenger users that could not be addressed with an ad in the country's most popular language. How could you interpret it? What does about 6% for Italy mean? It can be interpreted that 6% of Meta users in Italy seeing this ad in the country's main language - Italian - could not understand it.
Source: 2023 Team Analysis based on sizing Target Audiences by language in Meta’s advertising manager
Some countries we could quickly exclude from the analysis. China is not relevant due to low Meta penetration. It is probably also safe to assume no sane marketer in Canada would air the ad in English to the entire population, including the French speakers. Similarly marketers for India are likely cautious to the country’s two official languages - English and Hindi.
But where it gets really interesting is in cases like Germany. A staggering 13% of the target cannot understand the ad if advertising in German across the board. This is likely magnified by expats, immigrants, tourists, travelers changing planes in Munich or Frankfurt, transit passengers in cars or trains and users of Germany-terminating VPNs.
When extending the analysis to other major markets we can conclude the issue oscillates around up to 15%. The conservative average, excluding countries like Canada or Switzerland, is around 6% globally. 6% of users would not understand a copy aired in the country’s main language.
Is the entire value lost? Likely not all. One may argue if you see a famous Cola ad whose tagline you do not understand, you may still recall iconic brand assets like the logo or the product. It may still influence your buying decision.
In summary, capturing the lack-of-language-setting media opportunity can be worth on average up to 6% of your advertising budget. This is a sizable amount that advertisers can either save or re-invest in ads with language setting defined.
To capture the opportunity we have developed a dedicated Best Practice in our Adfidence suite. If you are a Media Head you can conveniently track how your brands, groups, regions or countries perform against the criteria across all your digital platforms. You will not only see if you have the campaigns that fail to define the language but also see how much of your advertising money is on stake. You can easily export the list of ads failing the BP and share it with your digital media team or digital media vendor. It will enable the change you can continue tracking in daily updates.
If you are among the advertisers who often miss the language setting, correcting the omissions can generate the value of up to 6% of the budgets in question. The extra efficiency should translate into additional sales of your products or services and further contribute to your long-term brand building.