Multimedia localization: why you need it and how to do it

We post, we read, we stream – and we do so on more screens in more languages than ever before. The rise in multimedia consumption goes hand in hand with the need to localize content for different audiences around the globe. But what difference does multimedia localization make? And what are the solutions for localizing different media formats? Let’s take a look at some famous examples from IKEA to H&M.

Did you watch Squid Game, Lupin or Money Heist on Netflix? If you can understand Korean, French or Spanish, you would have had the pleasure to watch these hit series in their original languages. Or you could have watched them in one of 60 other languages, thanks to dubbing and subtitling.
Ta-da – or should we say tudum in good old Netflix fashion: a prime example of why having a solid localization strategy is vital for expanding into new markets – and the main reason why Netflix has gone from a simple DVD rental service to a streaming giant in 190 countries.

As another example, Spotify catapulted their subscriber base from 20 million in 2015 to a whopping 144 million in 2020. They attributed a good chunk of this growth to their localization efforts, which included curated playlists based on the regional music tastes of their listeners. Examples like these highlight why localization is indispensable for the growth and revenue generation of any business.

But multimedia localization doesn’t just apply to streaming monsters. It applies to any type of media that someone from your existing or desired target audience might hear or see. Whether it’s a social media campaign, an e-learning course or a YouTube ad, the aim is to adapt specific types of media to reach a particular target audience – and every format demands its own localization strategy.

Multimedia localization: a solution for every format

About 75% of the internet market share prefers content in a language other than English. Among them are China and India, the two countries with the greatest number of internet users. There are now more people with access to a smartphone than ever – which they use increasingly for online shopping, ideally in their native language. Their user experience is successful when it’s intuitive. Simple as that. Beyond purchasing behavior, this rule also applies to communication with multilingual audiences and teams.

Think of localization as your golden ticket to increasing your overall brand awareness, sales and customer satisfaction. But what do some of these multimedia localization strategies look like in practice? And how do they apply for different media formats? Let’s take a look at some concrete examples.


Text is one of the main elements to localize, so users can consume media in their native language. A transcreation is the way to go, ensuring that words aren’t just translated literally but content is created in the target language to fit the purpose of a message. Mobile apps and websites need to be hyper localized for each target language and region. A particular challenge: screen space is limited! And languages can either become longer or shorter in the process of a transcreation.

The TED mobile app showcases this challenge in its English and German versions. In German, the text should have either been transcreated in a way that doesn’t increase the original character count or the layout or font size should have been adapted so that the entire text is visible on screen. With the button, however, the text has been transcreated nicely from “Surprise me” to “Überraschung” (German for “surprise”). The literal translation would be “Überrasche mich”, which is more text for a small button and doesn’t sound as natural in German.

The UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) are key elements to consider when localizing – and that goes beyond the text. Design preferences and the way a user navigates on a screen or moves along on a user journey can vary from country to country.


Images are an integral part of multimedia content. They are often bursting with socio-cultural references that may not fit depending on the target audience. IKEA does a great job at adapting their ads and images to match local cultures. They correspond with the locations of their physical stores and take into account how people live, eat, sleep, work and socialize in a particular place. Take these examples of two IKEA ads, one for the Muslim celebration of Eid in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and one for the celebration of Hari Raya in Malaysia, which is also celebrated by Muslims after the month of Ramadan: same faith, similar tradition, but a different celebration in each of the countries.

On the left: An ad from IKEA’s website in the UAE wishing users Eid Mubarak (Source: IKEA UAE). On the right: An ad from IKEA’s website in Malaysia wishing users a cheerful Hari Raya (Source: IKEA Malaysia).


Subtitles and dubbing are two key localization strategies for video and film content. Depending on the framework and the attention a video should get, each of these strategies has their advantages. Anyone who is not visually impaired can watch a video and roughly understand the message or story the moving images should convey. But understanding the spoken words accompanying a moving image is often crucial for making it an immersive experience.


Fashion giant H&M showed how both can be combined to best effect with subtitling one of their localized video campaigns for their audience in Amsterdam. After all, Amsterdam is an international city, and not everyone in their target audience has mastered the Dutch language yet, so the English subtitles helped. And the brand took localization even further than mere comprehensibility by tailoring the video’s message to the real needs and desires of its audience. Market research showed that H&M customers in Amsterdam requested more local brands in stores and new services for repairing, altering and renting clothes for a more sustainable approach to fashion.

But localizing video content doesn’t end there. Sometimes, movie titles and even character names need to be transcreated to resonate with the local language and culture – and in the case of Disney’s Moana, to avoid unseemly associations. The movie Moana was renamed to Oceania for its Italian release. The reason why is as simple as a Google search. Googling “Moana movie” could lead to vintage films starring the late Moana Pozzi, one of Italy’s most famous adult film stars of the 1980s. Adult films are certainly not how Disney imagined marketing a child-friendly movie.


Visual media such as a film, video or cartoon is usually accompanied by sound, and this requires localization all the same. The most challenging sound localization task of all might be musical lyrics. These have to balance visual, auditory and linguistic elements – and still be catchy enough to stick in your head for weeks after. Once again, Disney shows us how it’s done. Just listen to The Lion King’s “Hakuna matata” in Zulu, “Part of your world” from The Little Mermaid in Danish or “Let it go” from international blockbuster Frozen in a total of 44 localized versions.

The question of how to convert sound into different spoken languages arises not only for big films but for any type of audio recording. Whether podcasts, meeting recordings or interviews, the base for any audio localization is usually a transcript. This written text then serves as a base to work on further localization steps, such as voiceovers, captioning or subtitles. And the best transcripts come with timestamps, showing when each speaking line starts and ends. This makes it easy to line up the localization and the original for the final product.


Localize – or have it localized

Knowing your target audience well is key in order to get your message across. Cultural background has a major influence on how people engage with multimedia content. Once you’ve determined that, the individual content can be carefully adapted accordingly. Which is sometimes easier said than done. Luckily, there is help from specialists who know the ins and outs of the target market.


Cover image via Pexels

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