The use of “You” in international marketing communications

In the US, marketing communicators have a love affair with the word “you”. They find it direct, appealing, and attention-grabbing – all excellent traits in a successful communication.

For example, from a quick perusal of several magazines and newspapers:

  • Discover wines you’ll love as much as we do (New York Times Wine Club)
  • Nice to re-meet you (Anthem insurance)
  • There’s been a 65% increase in the time it takes to fill a job. You shouldn’t have to choose between doing it fast and doing it right (Monster)
  • Thanks for letting us into your homes and hearts (Ikea)
  • Your dream holidays (Kohl’s)
  • When you’re ready to give, USPS is ready to go (US postal service)
  • It’s not about how far you go. It’s about how you go far. (Ford)
  • Making your holiday guest list? (Mondavi)
  • This is why your days don’t have to end with dryness (Hydraglide contact lens solution)

This type of directness works well in the US. The individualistic culture means that consumers like to feel different from the crowd, i.e. unique and special. Advertising appeals that seem to speak directly to one special person have a higher degree of resonance, which leads to greater acceptance of the message in the ad. The US also has a very informal society in which people get on a first-name basis very quickly.

However, the use of the word “you” is much more problematic in other countries. In Germany, for example, the informal “du” is only used when both parties agree – after a long relationship – that they are now on a first-name, or “you”, status. The word “you” in ads will be perceived as insulting, since the decision to use “du” is one-sided, taken by the company without agreement from the consumer.

In many languages, such as Spanish or Italian, personal pronouns are rarely used; instead, formal and informal second-person verb forms are used. If the translator opts to use the formal second-person verb when translating an ad, the ad could be perceived as stuffy and too formal, alienating a younger audience. If the translator, however, opts to use the informal second-person verb, the ad could be seen as disrespectful, lazy, or naïve.

Therefore, from an international marketing perspective, the use of the word “you” and the impact in other countries needs to be carefully considered. In many cases, the message may have to be changed in order to not alienate the international audience.


Munday, J. 2004. Advertising: some challenges to translation theory. The Translator. 10:2, pp. 199-219.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s