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International pharmaceutical marketing translations for the drug Vemlidy in English and ChineseBegin at the Beginning

International pharmaceutical marketing translation will need to consider 3 main factors:

  1. Audience
  2. Laws and regulations
  3. Source content

All 3 of these factors are closely intertwined.

Audience matters for a few different reasons. In most countries besides the US, direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising is not permitted. This means that any drug-related advertising materials will be directed not towards the general public but to healthcare providers who may then choose to prescribe the drug to their patients. There are a few exceptions. For example, Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Slovakia and Sweden allow vaccination advertising campaigns under specific circumstances. According to Canadian law, “advertisements to the public [of prescription-only medicines] must be limited to the name (brand, proper or common), price, and quantity of the drug.” And in India, “advertisement of Ayurvedic and Homeopathic medication is permissible,” even though in some cases these types of medicines do require a prescription.

Healthcare Providers outside the U.S. and their use of pharmaceutical marketing translation

A pharmacist holding a tabletIn the case that the target market for international pharmaceutical marketing translation is healthcare providers, the audience, of course, is healthcare providers in countries outside the US. Even these communications are governed by specific legislation, and source material in English should be adapted before having translations done. With our work in healthcare translations, we find that this is true for two reasons. The first is version control and messaging. If changes are made to the source material at any point during the translation process, it will be more difficult to monitor them. This can not only compromise the original asset but can also cause delays in getting finalized translations. An approved version of the source material for the ultimate target audience should always be used for translation. For example, if DTC advertising for brand-name drugs is illegal in your target market, the source content should be edited or recreated for healthcare providers and then be confirmed as compliant before a translator ever sees it.

Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Alternatively, the US is home to an international population that speaks multiple languages. When the audience for international pharmaceutical marketing translation is US consumers, we encounter two further considerations: health literacy and first language.

Edits to a medical text so that it is in plain languageHealth literacy affects your entire US audience, English- and non-English-speaking. According to an article in Pharmacy and Therapeutics from 2011, “the content of [DTC pharmaceutical advertising] often exceeds the eighth-grade reading level, which is typically recommended for information distributed to the general public.” If a drug ad is to be well understood by as wide a population as possible, it is worth considering writing in plain language. You can read more about our experience with plain language in the healthcare field here. CMS Wire also recently published a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for plain language as it relates to information being circulated about COVID-19. The article leaves a few questions unanswered, but the basic principles are good to keep in mind when creating content for the US public at large. Two of the items that the author mentions are particularly relevant to this post: the first is that “the straightforward, helpful brands are the ones who will stand out,” and the second is that she lists making content available in multiple languages as a DO! Which languages these are will of course depend on the target audience. You can find more tips about choosing which languages to translate into in our post about patient education healthcare translation.

Not only can international pharmaceutical marketing translations increase awareness of a particular drug, but some studies indicate that they can improve health outcomes in certain circumstances. You can learn more about the link between healthcare translations and adherence to medication regimens or other healthcare strategies by taking a look at our Health Disparities and Adherence infographic. The Pharmacy and Therapeutics article cited above also references several research studies that show “the beneficial effect of [DTC pharmaceutical advertising] on patient adherence.” Combining these two principles means that international pharmaceutical marketing translations can not only raise awareness about a certain drug but may also improve outcomes for patients.

Back Translation: Doing it Right

A flow chart to visualize back translation: English into Chinese into English and compare two English documentsA regulatory measure that is often utilized in international pharmaceutical marketing translation is back translation. This is a process by which the translations of the source material are translated back into the original source language by a translator who has not seen the source material. We’ve written about how to effectively utilize back translation before. It can be a valuable tool when it is implemented and monitored properly and is often required in the pharmaceutical industry.

Since we’re discussing marketing here, it is worth mentioning that elements like taglines may cause hang-ups in the back translation process. While health and safety information tend to be more literal and straightforward, the effectiveness of slogans or taglines can be diluted when translated literally. We understand that these items are already the product of considerable time and monetary investments. However, the consequences of neglecting to put adequate time and thought into their translations can mean that a message loses impact or worse, creates a negative association with a brand name. Not every tagline requires transcreation – certain sentiments may be easily translatable. But others may not be, and when doing international pharmaceutical marketing translations, it’s important to keep this in mind, especially when back translation is part of the process.

Dialogue between the original content writers and the translation team can help resolve any concerns that may arise during back translation. For example, we recently worked on a marketing campaign for a prescription discount card. The English copy included a statement headlined by the word “Attention”. Our translation team shared with us that they could translate this as Atención, which may seem like the obvious choice to a non-Spanish speaker. However, they advocated for an alternate translation that they considered to be truer to the intent of the source: Aviso para residentes. Their reasoning was that Atención in the context of the advertisement came across as a command, similar to a drill sergeant calling soldiers to order. Aviso para residentes in the context of the ad, however, communicated the intent of the source material as an alert or a notification (though in some other contexts aviso can mean a warning – linguistic complexity at its finest!). Questions from the original copywriters can highlight explanations like this and assure them that the translations will reach the target audience in the same way as the original.

Whether a pharmaceutical ad is meant for a market outside of the US or for the multilingual US population, audience, laws and regulations, and source content are the foundation of appropriate international pharmaceutical marketing translation. If you are working on an ad campaign and have questions about translation, please get in touch – we’d love to help answer them for you!

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