The Importance of Using the Right ‘ism’s’ in Your Content
For Canadians, summer has kicked off to a great start. Between NBA Championships and Canada Day, it seems like us Canucks have our Canadianisms on full HD colour display for the world to see. For our neighbours south of the border, even this post might be too Canadian. After all, is it colour or color?
When it comes to local or national “isms,” there’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, North Americans can take solace in the fact that many of our continental ‘isms’ differ from other continents in the world. However, for marketers speaking to American and Canadian audiences, it’s important to know the similarities and differences in language that will help you appeal to both sides of the dollar.
From Pop to Soda
Old school wisdom says one should stay away from using colloquialisms and region-specific words. Writer Robyn Saunders argues, that’s not always the case. According to Saunders, “using more casual language that resembles a personal exchange often has more of an impact (on readers).” Resorting to formal language to convey a simple thought can backfire, making the content seem too high-brow or unrelatable to its audiences.1
There are certain Canadian words and phrases that are difficult for Americans to understand. Canadians call their carbonated sweet beverages ‘pop,’ use ‘taps’ in their ‘washrooms,’ and sip on ‘double-doubles.’ Do you own a beanie or a toque? If it’s the latter, you’re probably a Canadian. On a grammatical note, Canadians usually follow British English by writing col-our, fla-vour or hon-our.
Americans have their own share of unique ‘isms’ that can be funny to hear and tricky to decipher. Americans end sentences with ‘periods,’ pronounce the letter Z as ‘zee,’ and ‘turn off’ lights instead of switching them off. You might get a shocked look if you say the word ‘fanny pack’ to an unsuspecting Brit. Or maybe that's another thing for an American to “check off” their list.
From “Isms” to “Uh-Oh”
“It's always a good idea to check whether your brand name, logo, or tag line means something different in the regions where you're expanding.”2 While this might sound like a no-brainer, more than a few brands have faced this problem over the years. A recent example is Kraft Heinz, who released a ketchup-mayonnaise hybrid sauce in Canada under the name “Mayochup.” In Cree, the widest spoken indigenous language in Canada, the word “mayochup” roughly translates to “feces face.”3 In a similar situation, Clairol launched a curling iron called the “mist stick” in Germany. Germans use the term “mist” to talk about manure. That caused a bit of stink for Clairol.
What’s the lesson here? If you’re looking to talk to a new audience, make sure you learn about the nuances in their language that make them unique.
Happy Canada Day! Happy Fourth of July!
This week is an important week for Canadians and Americans alike, who are celebrating their independence days. To all our readers from the Great White North, we wish you a happy belated Canada Day! May your week be filled with Timbits and good news from Kawhi (please stay in Toronto!)
To our American readers, have a happy Fourth of July filled with family and friends! We hope your celebrations are red, white and blue, and cups are filled with Bloody Mary’s! Cheers!
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