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German Coast Guard Advert: Lost in Translation Term Paper

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Updated: Jul 13th, 2021

Advertising is the primary method of attracting additional customers, expanding market share, and creating a strong brand name (Bovee & Thill, 2014). The tactics implemented to attract customer attention, inspire interest, create desires, and inspire action have evolved from simple billboards with company names on them to interactive videos that invite the viewer to become part of the advertising experience. During the last decade, the general trend in advertising moved towards shortening of sales pitches and inspiring messages, out of respect for customer’s time, expenses on longer adverts, and the overall cost-efficiency of the venture. The first 5 – 10 seconds of the advertisement are supposed to get the customer’s attention, and the next 20 are expected to form their desire to explore and take action (Bonvillain, 2019). Understanding the elements that construct a successful advertisement is crucial for business communication. The purpose of this paper is to analyze an advert by Berlitz utilizing the AIDA framework.

Short Summary of the Advert

The advertisement is about 40 seconds long and begins with a senior coast guard introducing a newbie recruit to his new workplace (Carlson-Smith, 2005). The two conversate in German, with the trainee being left on post after being patted on the back. Shortly afterward, a Mayday distress signal is being relayed by the radio, prompting the guard to respond (Carlson-Smith, 2005). The individual on the other side of the radio feed informs the guard that “they are sinking” (Carlson-Smith, 2005, 00:00:28) The guard’s English is poor, so he misunderstands the message and wants to know “what they are singing about” (Carlson-Smith, 2005, 00:00:31). The advertisement ends with Berlitz’s logo being displayed on the screen, with a call to viewers to improve their English.

Overall First Impressions

Overall first impressions on my part as a viewer were mixed. For the first half of the advertisement, I had no idea what was going on. Due to the name of the video and the uniform, I managed to decipher the two individuals present on the screen to be coastal guards. I also managed to figure out the overall scene setup, with the individual being new to the job. However, it was hard to understand what they were talking about. The joke became apparent only during the second half of the video, and the fact this was an advertisement became clear only during the final few seconds of it. While I understood the idea behind the effort, my interest in the advert was primarily generated by the fact that I had to write a paper on it rather than the quality of production or the ingenuousness of the plot.

Visual Memories

Visual memories stand for bits and pieces of imagery that leave a lasting impression on the viewer (Bovee & Thill, 2014). The video provides very little in the ways of visual memories. All of the action happens in the coastal guard radio room. The faces of the actors and their characters are not memorable, as we do not even get to know their names. The most striking visual image in the entire advert is the company logo, but it succeeds in doing so only because the rest of the scenery was dull and unentertaining. It could be argued that the emphasis of the video was on the audio bit, including the joke, rather than on the visual component.

Decoding the Message

The process of decoding stands for the literal and symbolic interpretation of the immediate meaning of the message (Bovee & Thill, 2014). From the perspective of the coastal guard (who is receiving the message in the video), the ship relays to him that they are singing. This contradicts the Mayday call, which is an international code for distress, so he asks how the two are connected by inquiring what is the crew of the ship singing about (Federici & O’Brien, 2019). The message to the general audience is delivered in the second half, demonstrating how a poor knowledge of the English language can contribute to a tragedy, as miscommunication could lead to misunderstanding, with potentially dire consequences. This implicit message, when combined with the quote at the very end of the video, becomes the overall message for the viewer, stating that unless you brush up on your English, you might miss something important next time you need to communicate.

Business Message

The business message of the advent stands for the intended sales pitch to the customer delivered in visual, verbal, and written form (Bovee & Thill, 2014). The business message of the video is relatively vague, most of it being implicit. Berlitz does not provide much information about itself, besides the logo. From the contents of the advert and its emphasis on improving one’s English, it is possible to infer that Berlitz is a language school of some kind. The advert does not provide any direct sales pitches, nor does it feature any means of contact. Based on this, it would be possible to conclude that the purpose of the video is brand recognition among potential customers.

Encouraging Effective Communication

If I were the coastal guard, I would recommend using words that do not have double meanings and are less likely to be misinterpreted by individuals whose grasp of the English language is subpar (Federici & O’Brien, 2019). As demonstrated, the word “sinking” sounds like “singing,” which confuses the guard and derails his train of thought, as he had no other means of inferring or verifying his guess. A good means of communication, especially in a situation demonstrated in the video, would require not only a less unambiguous choice of words but also a support structure that would help the receiver understand the intended message (Federici & O’Brien, 2019).

Modifying the Message Using AIDA Model

The AIDA model stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, all of which are used in effective business communication, be that for advertising or to inspire others to follow one’s instructions (Constantinovits & Zhang, 2018). Before understanding what needs to be changed in the message that the coast guard received, the strengths and weaknesses of the initial message must first be identified and understood. The radio message begins with Mayday, which is a callsign for distress and an immediate attention grabber. The next part of the message is meant to maintain interest generated by the Mayday call. However, it does so I a suboptimal way, as it confuses the guard and does not relay any valuable information about the situation.

The desire part of the conversation is irrelevant, as the guard is implicitly interested in helping ships in distress, as it is his job to do so. Finally, the message relayed by the ship does not incite any calls to action besides the statement of sinking. In a situation where both speakers are fluent in English, this word would have been enough to solicit action, but with the coastal guard being German, it was not enough.

As a director, if I were to demonstrate a more effective means of communication between the ship captain and the coastal guard, I would reform the message to be as follows: “Mayday, Mayday, this is RMS Titanic, the ship is being flooded with water. Our approximate position is (coordinates, if available). Help us!”

This message, while longer than the initial one utilized in the video, addresses most steps of the AIDA framework (Constantinovits & Zhang, 2018). It retains Mayday as the attention grabber, then identifies the caller as RMS Titanic, and describes the situation using three keywords instead of one, those being ship, flooded, and water. Even if one of these words is misheard, the listener can infer the overall meaning by relying on others. Finally, the message ends with a call to action, ensuring that the guard understands the seriousness of the situation.

Concepts Learned

The three concepts learned during this assignment and classroom discussions include the application of AIDA principles in oral communication, modulation of the message to fit the audience, and using appropriate words and visuals to achieve the desired effect. Just like the coast guard in the short advertisement did not understand the main message of the ship in distress, most of the advertisement itself falls on deaf ears, as it expects the broader audience to be fluent in 2 languages to understand its intended pitch. As demonstrated in the analysis above, the AIDA concepts serve as the key to ensuring that the message contains all the necessary parts needed for successful communication. Finally, it highlights the importance of unambiguous word choices to avoid misinterpretation (Bonvillain, 2019).


Bonvillain, N. (2019). Language, culture, and communication: The meaning of messages. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Bovee, C. L., & Thill, J. V. (2014). Business communication today (13th ed.). New York, NY: Random House.

Carlson-Smith, D. (2005). [Video file]. Web.

Constantinovits, M., & Zhang, S. (2018). Oral tactics in principled negotiation based on AIDA model. BRAND. Broad Research in Accounting, Negotiation, and Distribution, 9(1), 39-45.

Federici, F. M., & O’Brien, S. (Eds.). (2019). Translation in cascading crises. New York, NY: Routledge.

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1. IvyPanda. "German Coast Guard Advert: Lost in Translation." July 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/german-coast-guard-advert-lost-in-translation/.


IvyPanda. "German Coast Guard Advert: Lost in Translation." July 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/german-coast-guard-advert-lost-in-translation/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "German Coast Guard Advert: Lost in Translation." July 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/german-coast-guard-advert-lost-in-translation/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'German Coast Guard Advert: Lost in Translation'. 13 July.

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