Why you can’t advertise online in te reo Māori

Social media advertising is big business but, as Reweti Kohere explains, it’s not possible for companies to reach tangata whenua in their own reo.

The next time you pass an advertisement on your Facebook or Twitter feed, take a few seconds to reflect on the NZ$255 billion in revenue that social media advertising generated globally in 2021. Take another moment. to realize that this amount should increase in New Zealand. 420 billion dollars in four years. Social advertising accounts for a third of all digital ad spend, and TikToks, Instagram reels, and other short-form video ads drive tens of billions of dollars in sales. Used by more than half of the world’s 7.8 billion people, social media has become highly monetized.

Companies in Aotearoa can take advantage of this global opportunity, but if they want to reach tangata whenua in their own region, some big tech companies cannot help them. Here’s why.

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Search engine giant Google’s paid online advertising platform, Google Ads, allows users to advertise and promote their products and services when users search for relevant keywords. Under its “pay per click” model, search results will return paid ads from marketers who have targeted and paid for those key terms. Who gets first place is determined by the “Quality Score” of the marketers’ ads and their bid amounts, or how much they’re willing to pay for the ad. When users see an ad and click on it, the marketer pays a small fee for that click (hence, pay-per-click).

Marketers can design their Google ads in multiple ways, including targeting potential customers based on the languages ​​they understand. But “language targeting” depends on whether or not Google supports a particular language. While Maori businesses could target New Zealanders by writing their adverts in British English, a available language, they cannot target tangata whenua using te reo Māori in ad copy, as it is not supported. And creating ads in an unsupported language will result in disapproval from Google.

A spokesperson for Google New Zealand confirmed that it does not support te reo Māori advertising, but pointed to other supportive initiatives such as the company’s Māori search engine and ensuring that names of Maori places in Google Maps are spelled correctly with macrons. “We have worked to ensure that the New Zealand Government can use Maori words and phrases in its advertisements at critical times such as the general election and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

Who else doesn’t support te reo Māori advertising?

LinkedIn, Microsoft’s business and professional networking service, also does not support advertising in te reo Māori. Its advertising works similarly to Google’s pay-per-click model and allows members to use only a list of “supported languagesin any advertising campaign or marketing solution. Te reo Maori is not listed as a supported language.

“While not possible to support all languages ​​at this time, we are constantly looking for ways to help organizations reach their audiences,” said a LinkedIn spokesperson, who encouraged members. to continue posting in te reo on its social media platform.

Google Ads does not support advertising in te reo Māori (Photo: Getty Images)

Why is Te Reo Maori not available?

Neither Google nor LinkedIn explained why te reo Māori was unavailable. But one Google Ads query hints at two possible reasons – one answer explained that Google only supports languages ​​that are “commercially” useful. For example, India has 22 official languages ​​and between 450 and 1,700 other languages. Google Ads supports the country’s two main languages, English and Hindi, which are used for business, but it also supports other languages ​​spoken in India, such as Marathi and Telugu. Another response suggested that using Maori words without their tohutō (macrons) might make them acceptable, and said, “Yes, it’s far from perfect, but it shouldn’t affect your ad performance. .”

What about Meta?

Facebook and Instagram owner Meta fares better. Nick McDonnell, Meta’s policy manager for New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, said the company has no language restrictions on advertising products, so te reo Māori is available. However, while Meta allows users to create ads in multiple languages ​​and can automatically translate them using machine learning technology, machine translations for Maori are not available, so users still have to write a separate ad in te reo.

What do robots have to do with translations?

Artificial intelligence is set to transform many sectors and areas of life – and it is already beginning to impact language. Google Translate has been around since 2006 (te reo Māori was introduced in 2013) and the 20-year-old Microsoft Translator also supports te reo Māori. At least since 2018, the artificial intelligence branch of Meta has been developing high-quality machine translation capabilities for most languages ​​in the world. In 2021, Meta expanded its dataset to cover 200 languages, including Te Reo Maori, and then recently made its latest translation model, “No Language Left Behind” (NLLB), freely available so others can rely on his work.

This effort is part of Meta’s ambitious plans to create a universal translator, which it considers important for the company’s continued growth. But low-resource language communities see with cynicism the attention that big tech gives them, and local companies are imposing themselves with alternative solutions. Earlier this year it was revealed Google didn’t have the right technology to deliver on promises made in a 2017 campaign to improve Maori pronunciation in Google Maps. But since then the likes of Auckland FranklyAI and Te Hiku Media have stepped up efforts to develop a suite of reo Māori speech recognition tools.

Willie Jackson, Maori Development Minister (Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ)

What is the government’s opinion?

Maori Minister for Development, Broadcasting and Media, William Jackson (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Maniapoto) calls on big tech to embrace te reo Māori. While the language is revitalized locally, “that doesn’t happen internationally, except when our national teams perform haka,” he said. “Maybe it’s time for big companies like Google and LinkedIn to take up this challenge.”

The government is aiming for at least one million New Zealanders to speak basic Maori by 2040, as part of its ‘Maihi Karauna’ Maori revitalization strategy. Jackson believed that companies would change their policies and practices due to increased mastery of te reo Māori. Then, he said, perhaps the big global tech companies could make similar changes.

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