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Why Translation isn't Enough: The Case for Transcreation

In a multicultural country, translation is always a consideration in communication but over time, the gaps in translation can start to come through.

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Key Takeaways

  • Transcreation is a type of creative translation and re-structuring of copy to adhere to the cultural and linguistic standards of the target audience within another country.

  • Transcreation goes beyond the literal translation of words to capture the intended message, tone, and cultural context of the original content.

  • Good transcreation involves close collaboration between the transcreation team and the client, with a well-defined creative brief and market research as the foundation for a successful campaign.

  • The goal of transcreation is to ensure that the original message of the marketing content is effectively communicated to the new audience in a way that resonates with them emotionally and culturally.

  • The linguistic copywriters need to have a deep understanding of both the source and target languages and cultures, and the project manager needs to coordinate the creative process to ensure that the final product meets the client's expectations.

  • Transcreation offers brands a myriad of benefits, the most prominent of which is brand resonance with your audience and improved brand awareness.

  • Transcreation is more complex than translation and requires not just creativity in language and writing skills but also insight into the audience you are trying to reach.


"This word doesn't translate well."

"There's no word for this in that language."

"This message doesn't resonate in this language."


Not every message can be adequately translated, especially when it comes to advertising and marketing. The main purpose of advertising is to encourage your target audience to buy your product or service. The delivery is key. Otherwise, you won't get the desired action and outcome from your audience. If a word doesn't translate well, your whole marketing campaign will flop, and it's back to the drawing board. Enter Transcreation.


What is Transcreation?


The word transcreation first made its way into academia over 60 years ago and was mainly associated with literary texts. In 1957, Purushottama Lal, an Indian poet and scholar, used the term transcreation to refer to his English translation of a classic Indian drama in Sanskrit. He explained that "the thing to do is to attempt to preserve not the Sanskrit language but the Hindu tradition which it enshrines". The purpose of transcreation, as Lal intended, was to capture the spirit of the text and recreate it in a different language to engage the target audience. It's translating and creating all in one. The key here is to reflect the source text and keep the original message alive, just in a different language. Easier said than done.


Transcreation became mainstream in the advertising and marketing world in the 1990s. In marketing, transcreation is described as a type of creative translation and re-structuring of copy to adhere to the cultural and linguistic standards of the target audience within another country. It goes beyond the literal translation of words to capture the intended message, tone, and cultural context of the original content.


Typically with transcreation, as the target audience is different from the audience of the original message, the content needs to go through a new briefing process. The campaign and advertising copy need to be recreated to resonate with the new audience in their language while taking into account their cultural background, local customs, and marketing preferences. A good transcreation process involves close collaboration between the transcreation team and the client, with a well-defined creative brief and market research as the foundation for a successful campaign.


Why is Transcreation Important?


As the world is becoming more diverse and interconnected, brands are spilling over into new countries and markets around the globe. To succeed in these new markets, businesses and brands must reframe their marketing messages to elicit the same intended response in their new audience. Transcreation aims to do just that.


The goal of transcreation is to ensure that the original message of the marketing content is effectively communicated to the new audience in a way that resonates with them emotionally and culturally. Good transcreation considers not only the target audience's language but also their cultural norms and preferences, ensuring that the advertising messages are relevant and engaging.


This is especially important for global brands that need to adapt their marketing content to different target markets and languages, where a direct translation of advertising copy may not resonate with the local audience.


A classic example of translation gone wrong is KFC's "Finger-Lickin' Good" campaign, which, when it made its way to the Chinese market, was translated into "Eat your fingers off". Definitely not the message they wanted to deliver to their customers. Transcreation ensures that translation blunders like this don't happen in key markets.


The Challenges of Transcreation


Transcreation is more complex than translation as it requires not just creativity in language and writing skills but insight into the audience you are trying to reach. There needs to be a high level of expertise and experience to ensure a good outcome. The linguistic copywriters need to have a deep understanding of both the source and target languages and cultures, and the project manager needs to coordinate the creative process to ensure that the final product meets the client's expectations.


In some cases, drastic changes may need to be made to the original text or product names to ensure that the transcreated content resonates with the target culture. This is particularly true for advertising content, where a simple translation may not capture the intended emotional response of the audience.


An excellent example of a slogan that had to be completely altered is Intel's "Sponsors of Tomorrow" in Brazil. In Portuguese, Brazil's native tongue, the direct translation of the slogan implied that Intel would not deliver on its promises immediately. Intel used transcreation to update the messaging used in Brazil to "Intel: In Love with the Future". While vastly different in its meaning in English, this Portuguese iteration captures the same essence for its Brazilian audience.


The Benefits of Transcreation


Transcreation offers brands a myriad of benefits, the most prominent of which is brand resonance with your audience and improved brand awareness. In turn, this can lead to more consumer engagement and a higher conversion rate.


By adapting the marketing messages to the local audience, businesses can establish a stronger connection with their target market and increase their chances of success.


Sometimes transcreation can work so well that the transcreated slogan is even better than the original. An example of this can be seen with Proctor & Gamble's 1999 campaign in Italy for their Swiffer dusting products. The original English slogan was "When Swiffer's the one, consider it done". The rhyming couplet worked well in the original language, but the direct translation in Italian would've ruined the flow. The team was tasked with creating an Italian rhyming couplet that would retain the meaning and resonance with the Italian audience.


The Italian creative translation, "La polvere non-dura, perché Swiffer la cattura," changed the slogan's meaning to "The dust doesn't linger, because Swiffer catches it." but kept the rhyming couplet power. Some might argue that this version is even better than the original as it directly mentions the product's benefits. This is widely regarded as one of the best examples of creative slogan transcreation.


Final Thoughts


Transcreation is an important tool for brands and businesses that want to effectively market their products and services to international audiences. While translation may be more suitable for more functional and technical content, transcreation is essential for advertising campaigns and other marketing messages that require a deep understanding of the target culture and language. By working with experienced linguistic copywriters and project managers, businesses can ensure that their transcreation projects are successful and resonate with the local audience. Remember, good news travels fast, but bad translations can travel even faster.



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