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Advertisers should use subtitles rather than dubbing for foreign language adverts, according to new research from EMLYON business school.

The research found that both subtitles and dubbing were preferable to running the advert in English to non-English audiences, although subtitles were the more cost-effective option.

The study, conducted by Margherita Pagani at EMLYON with colleagues from the US and Italy, looked at adverts for Apple’s iPhone 5, Reb Bull and the Renault Clio. This was viewed by a sample of students between the ages of 18 and 25 on TV across Spain, Germany and Italy over the course of 12 months.

Researchers found adverts viewed in English were not always understood by the audience. Despite having English language skills, only 36% of viewers were able to explain their meaning.

The results also revealed that both subtitles and dubbed adverts significantly improved comprehension and positively influenced viewer’s perception of the brand in the advert.

Pagani says, “Global companies need to communicate with an international audience. This has sparked a debate about whether it’s more effective to create one advert, which would be communicated to the entire international audience, versus adapting an advert to suit the various international communities. It’s cheaper to create one advert for the entire audience and has the added advantage of being a faster process with a message that everyone can relate to. However, this study has shown that lots of European consumers are less likely to favour a TV advert in English compared to the same ads either spoken or subtitled into their local language.”

Pagani continues, “Internet-based video has made it more common and acceptable for subtitles to be included in downloaded content. Considering that subtitling can be up to 10 times cheaper than dubbing, and that this study saw no significant difference between the performance of the two methods, advertisers would benefit from embracing the cheapest form of language adaptation.”

The research also notes that the viewer’s perception of the brand is also influenced by the type of advert, and that advertisers should consider the target audience and goal of the campaign when choosing a form of communication.


For more information regarding Professor Margherita Pagani's research or to arrange an interview, contact:
Rochelle Gayle at: or call +44(0)1582 790 711

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