Coke TV ad elicits Filipino pride…and some chuckles
The different languages
NEW YORK—By now, you’ve heard how the multilingual version of “America the Beautiful” in Coca Cola’s Super Bowl ad caused indignation among conservatives who are still uncomfortable with cultural diversity. Many Filipinos, however, were distracted by more pressing matters about the ad.
First, Tagalog was making its debut in this highest-grossing TV spectacle, so it was a big deal. Second, something went awry in a particular translation. They couldn’t believe they were hearing “above the fruited plain” as “sa ibabaw ng mga prutas,” which drew chuckles from Filipinos.
The literal translation, “on top of, surface of, or above the fruit,” clearly did not pass muster and could have been translated as “saganang kabukiran,” “masaganang lupain,” or “masaganang kapatagan.” Problem is, this is not conversational or colloquial Tagalog or Filipino, the language of the advertising world, which this writer also inhabits.
A workable TV-friendly alternative was suggested. On Facebook, Rene Casibang, a former Filipino TV staffer, asked why not “sa taas ng mga prutas sa kapatagan?” Relatable enough, but here’s another problem: It’s too long for a 60-second spot that needs to include other languages to an American song that is used to its slow pace.
Perhaps it’s this challenge that confronted the translator. Is she the one in the outtakes of the Tagalog version who says, “You cannot translate Tagalog word for word; it’s conceptual”? She clearly has a point, but how much can you stretch “artistic license” in a TV spot?
So this writer (who also said it was a poor translation when consulted about the recorded song’s translation) brought in three experts to weigh in: New York-based playwright Ralph Peña; poet Joi Barrios-Leblanc, Tagalog language instructor-lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley; and Bing Magtoto, Tagalog language instructor-lecturer at New York University.
For Peña, it was a “major fail” to say or sing “sa ibabaw ng mga prutas.” Still, Peña thinks “Tagalog as a language is not lacking in figurative capacity.”
Jose Rizal would most likely have translated it thus: “Sa lupain mong hitik sa bunga” as both Peña and Barrios-Leblanc pointed out, borrowing the National Hero’s “hitik” and “bunga” from “Mi Ultimo Adios” (which was also sung and interpreted by Gary Granada).
Another recommendation from Peña came in the form of a trans-creation: “Sa ibabaw ng kapatagang hitik sa yaman” or “above your plains overflowing with riches.”
In separate interviews Barrios-Leblanc and Magtoto also agreed with Peña about the poor translation, but they understood the difficulty the ad makers faced in translating the song for commercial purposes. The American song is poetic, using words not commonly used today.
Counting the nine syllables of the lyrics, “sa ibabaw ng mga prutas,” Barrios-Leblanc offered “ang lupa kong hitik sa bunga,” having both the same number of syllables.
But will Filipinos understand that? Barrios-Leblanc admits that “above the fruited plain” in Tagalog is not easy to translate for mass media, but changing the noun (plain) instead of the adjective (fruited) reduces the risk of having an awkward translation.
All three did not find anything wrong with the translation in the other parts of the song, even if it left out other words in the song, such as “from sea to shining sea.”
“It’s unfortunate that the only lyrics that didn’t work was the ‘prutas’ line that was sung in the commercial,” Barrios-Leblanc said.
However, it is also important to point how the multilingual or multicultural audience presents a unique challenge in American advertising. There is no one-size fits-all scenario, because each culture is different.
One in five households speak a language other than English. So, even if children born to immigrants grow up to become American in behavior and attitude, many retain their parents’ culture to some degree, more so now when their heritage is easy to access online. Not that they become less patriotic about America; the world is just smaller.
Of course, American advertising cannot be expected to get all the cultural nuances, but they can learn from a markedly diverse America, especially from multicultural specialists. McDonald’s, for one, has tapped these specialists to produce separate ad campaigns for each of its multicultural markets effectively. It is one of the earliest FORTUNE 500 companies to do so in America.
Beyond the translation faux pas, Magtoto was magnanimous in her observation. For her, the goal of spreading the message of Americas’ diversity was sufficient.
“We could take all day nitpicking (on the translation) or just think of how we (Filipinos) are part of something bigger,” she said.
Filipino-Americans represent the second-largest Asian American group in the United States at 3.4 million, with the second-highest household income at $75,000 a year.
In 2011, Coke-products consumption in the Philippines per capita was 40 percent above the worldwide average, according to the Coca Cola Company’s annual review http://www.coca-colacompany.com/annual-review/2011/pdf/2011-per-capita-consumption.pdf.
Little girl Leilani singing in Tagalog
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