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Babbel ‘Missing out’ / Wieden & Kennedy

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We’ve all been there. You’ve travelled away for a relaxing holiday for it to be savagely interrupted by the occurrence of an awkward language barrier moment. You’re in a foreign country and a national starts up a conversation in their native tongue and you have to shamefully stutter out ‘Sorry, I only speak English’. Inspired by a national proclivity to travel overseas, much of the British public cite speaking another language as something that they wish they could do. In its latest spot, foreign language learning system Babbel is hoping to tap into this market by instilling in them one of the current social climates greatest anxieties: the fear of missing out.


Created by Wieden & Kennedy, the 90-second film sees real footage of tourists in Barcelona being approached by a man speaking in Spanish. The work captures the baffled travellers as they struggle to work out what he is saying. To the Spaniard’s dismay he cannot participate in a conversation with anyone featured in the film as he is met with either a language barrier (with English responses of ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘Sorry mate, I speak English’); miscommunication (when a tourist thinks he is asking him for money); or outright shunning. One British couple stop and actually make an attempt to understand the man, albeit by fumbling around on their phones in an effort to translate his words, yet still come to no avail.



Unbeknownst to the perplexed sightseers, the man was offering a host of gifts which, due to their inability to understand and accept them in Spanish, went unclaimed. Among other prizes, tourists could have got their hands on a luxury yacht, 5,000 euros, a jet ski or a leg of ham. However, it is only at the end of the ad that we see tourists reacting to the revelation of the true nature of the Spaniard’s ramblings and it is confirmed that they actually would have received some of the aforementioned prizes.


For the benefit of the English-speaking viewer, and for added humour, Wieden & Kennedy added on-screen text and speech bubbles to the film, allowing the viewer to be let in on the secret of what was really being said. This additional commentary, along with clever editing, serves up some gentle comical observations such as a young northern lad attempting to reply to the Spaniard in some kind of invented British-Spanish hybrid language, coming out with ‘Newp’ which, Babbel humorously points out, is not a word.


On a more serious note, the work, incidentally, could not have come at a more appropriate time as anti-tourist sentiment heats up in Europe. Interestingly, Barcelona has been the destination at the forefront of this movement, with anti-tourist protestors making waves in the city in recent weeks. With residents unhappy with the swarm of visitors entering their city, Babbel’s campaign might help, in a small part, to build bridges between ‘us and them’ - by helping to raise the number of Brits with foreign language skills. If visitors begin travelling with prior knowledge of the local language this could be a small but significant measure in keeping the peace, as residents begin to notice the effort tourists have put in to respect their culture and preserve their country’s authenticity.


The combination of real-life footage and editing in Babbel’s ad makes for a great piece which not only stands alone as a humorous experiment but, simultaneously, reminds the viewer (who speaks no foreign language) that those being fooled on film could easily be them. In turn, they will likely come away thinking that before their next overseas escapade they might just brush up on the local language, with Babbel in the forefront of their minds to assist.


The spot was created by Richard Biggs and Jolyon White at Wieden & Kennedy and directed by Tom Gorst through Full Fat Films.