International CTAs

Action hero: taking your CTAs global

An urgent “Act now!” or a restrained “Find out more”? It all depends on your target market. After all, the same CTA will get very different responses depending on the country and language region you deploy it in. If you want to achieve the same success in Taipei as you do in Texas, you’ll need to tailor your message to your audience. Ready to “Find out more”?

Click here! Buy now! Free download! CTAs are everywhere, from banner ads to newsletters, and they have an importance out of all proportion to their diminutive length. Why? Well, the choice of words on this little button can translate into sales success – or frustrating failure.

And to complicate things further, what makes a great call to action varies from country to country. Formal or informal? Direct or indirect? And how many exclamation marks is too many? Google Translate might get the gist across, but it can’t help with these kinds of cultural subtleties. That’s what we’re here for.

In a hurry? Click here for the TL;DR.

English: laying it on thick

If you’re targeting the home crowd, it should feel natural to reach for exclamation marks and action words. “Join us!” and “Act now!” or “Save your seat!” – they all create the desired sense of urgency for audiences in the US. So give your creativity free rein when it comes to CTAs for domestic markets – perhaps taking inspiration from standout puns like Spotify’s “It’s play time”.

Just make sure to tone things down internationally. This urgency often comes across as excitable or overdramatic to European and Asian readers. And don’t assume that what works for the US will also go down well in other English-speaking countries – the British market, for example, prefers more subtle CTAs that offer added value, such as “Free trial”. Here, you might want to lean on the personal perspective too (“I want to learn more” or “Yes, sign me up”).

German: keeping things clear

“Zum Newsletter anmelden” (Subscribe to newsletter) or “Nehmen Sie Kontakt auf” (Contact us): you know exactly what you’re getting with a German call to action. When addressing customers directly, the polite “Sie” is still standard, although the informal “du” is becoming ever more common online and among young people – even in sectors like banking. But although A/B tests suggest the tide is now turning, indirect phrases using the infinitive verb form continue to be more widely used than direct address. These politely distant CTAs can be interpreted however readers like – which might explain why they’re particularly popular in neutral Switzerland.

France: unobtrusively polite

French CTAs are a model of sophisticated restraint. It’s usually best to deploy a distant infinitive, as in “Commencer” (Start) or “Essayer gratuitement” (Try for free). If you do want to address your audience directly, you’ll need to keep things formal with the “vous” form of the verb: “Achetez maintenant” (Buy now) or “Abonnez-vous” (Sign up). Unlike in the German market, these rules also apply to a younger audience, which is why even youth-friendly brands such as H&M and Netflix use “vous” in French.

Italian: among friends

To get clicks in bella Italia, on the other hand, you’ll need to keep things informal with a friendly “tu”: “Prova gratis” (Try for free), “Scopri di più” (Find out more) or “Iscriviti subito” (Register now). There’s also an English influence on Italian marketing that leaves more scope for emotion than in other languages, creating a sense of closeness and sympathy among the Italian audience.

Spanish: sales success through telepathy?

Did you know that Spanish CTAs can read minds? Or at least, that’s how they’re formulated. Instead of “Get your e-book”, it’s “Voy a por mi e-book” (I’ll get my e-book). Apparently, the call to action already knows what I want. That conveys a sense of closeness, and customers get the impression that the brand or product is communicating directly with them. But if that’s too risky, you can also use indirect infinitive forms such as “Comprar ahora” (Buy now) or “Saber más” (Find out more).

Chinese: beating around the bush

Not only do you have to master a whole new writing system to sell in the Chinese market, you also need to take into account an elaborate system of courtesy. To avoid offensive blunders, it’s best not to address anyone at all in your CTAs. Instead, try “立即选购” (Shop now) – clear, but distant and unobtrusive. A call that applies to everyone, but won’t make anyone feel obligated. You can’t get politer than that.

Japanese: reserved… or katakana

What applies to China is true of Japan as well: in many East Asian cultures, direct forms of address are considered impolite, meaning that calls to action don’t actually call the reader to act. Instead, we recommend formulating your CTAs in a more restrained, polite way: for example “デモを観る” (Watch demo).

However, if you feel your marketing requires the assertive approach, you can also try using the katakana syllable script to represent foreign words: “サインアップ” spells out the English “Sign up”, for example. This tactic strikes a chord with the younger, English-speaking generation, who view it as trendy. Another reason it’s always worth knowing your target audience.

Here’s an overview if you’re pressed for time:



Form of address




Direct, informal

Emotional, implicit, sense of urgency, first person

“Save your seat”

“I’m in!”


Indirect/direct, generally formal

CTA needs to add value/point to a clear action

“Demo ansehen” (Watch demo)

“Zum Newsletter anmelden” (Subscribe to our newsletter)


Indirect, sometimes direct and formal

Polite and distant, formal regardless of age or familiarity

“Commencer” (Begin)

“Abonnez-vous” (Sign up)


Direct, informal

Friendly, familiar, action words

“Scorpi di più” (Find out more)



Appeals in the first person or without a direct form of address

“Voy a por mi e-book” (I’m getting my e-book)

“Comprar ahora” (Buy now)



Reserved, doesn’t address anyone specifically

“立即选购” (Shop now)



Reserved, doesn’t address the audience directly. Modern form is based on English (exclusively using katakana)

«デモを観る» (Watch demo)

«サインアップ» (Sign up)

Get a piece of the action

From France and Spain to Japan and the US – CTAs are always short and concise. But that’s where the similarities end. If you want to achieve global marketing mastery, you need to take cultural factors into account. And, of course, know your customers.

Need a little help attracting international attention? Let’s talk about it.


Get in touch

Kontakt aufnehmen



Quiero ponerme en contacto



Cover image via Supertext

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