My Perception of Language Use in TV Commercials

And how TV ads have given me a new perspective on language use.

I didn't realize it at first, but because I never spent much time watching TV, I never noticed the curious use of language in television commercials.

The first time I started paying attention to language in commercials was while I was visiting my family in Vietnam.  I was preparing for lunch at home, when I heard a familiar tune being played on TV.

The commercial was for a popular brand of shampoo and the background music caught my attention.  It was familiar because I recently saw this commercial in California before departing on my trip.  Of course the commercial in California was in English and the one I saw in Vietnam was in Vietnamese, but the product and music were the same.  Even the actress was the same!  I was in a semi trance with my eyes glued to this TV advertisement.   The product and the branding didn't register at first; my brain did not fully absorb all the information until hours later.

The fact that I was now hearing the commercial in Vietnamese after hearing the same commercial in English gave me a strange impression.  I did not experience the same affect and the urgency to go buy the product was definitely not as strong.  For some unknown reason, "keeping your hair shiny" and its direct translation "giữ cho tóc bóng mượt" just doesn't have the same impact.  In fact, hearing the commercial in my native language actually made me feel weary.  It made me realize that clever slogans in one language do not necessary translate to have the same impression.

Ever since then, my perception of language takes on a new meaning.  I keep wondering: What is the missing link which gave me that "normal" feeling when I used watch commercials in Vietnamese?  Why after learning English and watching American television does my perception of Vietnamese translations change?  My relatives get that same "normal" feeling when they watch the ads in Vietnamese because they have no basis of comparison.  This is something I find very fascinating and will definitely be pondering for some time in the future.