Localisation, Kiwi style.

I received an email recently from BT encouraging me to sign up to the Terminate the Rate campaign. This aims to end the fee applied to landline calls to mobile phones, or to calls from mobiles to users on a different network. My first reaction was suspicion – a utilities company urging me to join a campaign to help me save money?

But I clicked on the link to Terminate the Rate. And here I have to admit my translator’s curiosity overrode my interest in saving money. There, just over half-way down the page was the heading “Drop the Rate, Mate! Terminate the Rate goes global, Kiwi style”

The change of style isn’t just linguistic: it continues in the web sites’ design. The UK’s is in cool (i.e. cold) blues and lilacs, the only hint of rebellion being the slightly grungy type used for the headings. New Zealand’s Drop the Rate site is in eye-popping orange, fuchsia, red and ochre, with running text in bright blue and green (plus fuchsia and ochre again) adding to the visual din.

The UK’s site shows a smiling grey-haired woman talking serenely on her mobile, New Zealand’s an enraged 30-something man yelling at, not into, his phone.

The UK’s is static, New Zealand’s dynamic. And good grief, they even use the word “bloody” in one of their running banner texts!

I’m bemused, I really am. What sort of cultural stereotypes are they appealing to here? Are they valid? Do you identify with either reaction – smiling serenity or angry rage –over mobile phone charges? Comments from Poms, Kiwis, Aussies (Ozzies? – guidance from Sarah Dillon would be appreciated here!), or any other ethnicity most welcome.

By Marian Dougan

4 Responses

  1. As requested, from my perspective (i.e. Irish multilingual, lived in UK for many years, now living in Australia) and in my experience, it’s definitely Aussies and never Ozzies, although Wikpedia says otherwise. I’ve used Oz for brevity in Tweets when referring to the country, and a straw poll of friendly natives have suggested that’s fine… but I’m sure New Zealanders, South Africans, and maybe even other Australians would have a different perspective on this.

    In your Tweet you asked what I’d call Scots, Irish and Welsh, as distinct from Poms. Well, as far as I’ve seen it actually used (as opposed to what I’ve read in prescriptive dictionary definitions), Pom is slang, it’s more common to specific contexts, and is an informal and not always complementary way to refer to the British in general. So, of course, it’s not used to refer to the Irish. Given this context, it’s not marked for the intricacies of Britain’s nations either, so there’s no real distinction between either Scots, Welsh or English in its meaning.

    I think it’s important to remember that this is all about context. Personally I wouldn’t tend to use either Aussies or Oz in anything other than Tweets, as shortening the name of someone else’s country seems very informal and possibly over-familiar to me. (I’d use Down Under for example, but again, probably not to an Australian. It would seem forced somehow, like when dads try to talk gangsta to prove to their children that they’re cool).
    Likewise, I wouldn’t ever use Pom – I’m not Australian and I don’t follow cricket, so I don’t need to use a term that refers to Britons with that particular sense of meaning 🙂
    That’s my personal perspective on it all. Yes, I probably am far too linguistically aware!

    By the way, about the ad campaign, don’t you think it might be a case of simple market segmentation, rather than cultural stereotyping?

    1. Thanks for the detailed comment, Sarah. Market segmentation or cultural stereotyping? I imagine there’s a bit of both. But given that mobile phones are used by just about every segment of the population (apparently they’ve even launched a model for 4-year-olds) I’m not sure why they’d go for that tactic.

  2. I was thinking more along the lines that they’ve probably identified gaps in each country’s market in certain segments. And it’s precisely because almost every segment uses mobile phones that it makes sense to market a campaign to a specific demographic, i.e. grey-haired women or angry young men, based on country-specific gaps identified through market research. (I’ve translated a lot of this kind of research, although not for New Zealand, so I know how specific it can be.)

  3. Thanks

    I simply wondered if you’d had any news yet re a mutual link or editorial ?

    With best wishes



    wordstogoodeffect I’d be delighted to host a guest post from you, including links, on any topic from your books that you’re particularly keen on or that’s relevant to my blog. Which in theory is about English and translating – in my case from Italian to English – but in practice seems to over a lot more besides.

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