Transcreation and marketing translation are two different ways to localise your marketing content for different international audiences. Because when your audience changes, smart brands need to adapt.

After all, you put a great deal of time and effort into developing your brand and marketing content. You researched your target audience and designed your marketing to appeal to them.

It follows then, that when you are trying to appeal to a completely new target audience in a different country, directly translating your domestic marketing isn’t going to be anywhere near as effective.

So, what’s the difference between transcreation and marketing translation? Aren’t they essentially the same thing? Which is best for your marketing content?

In this article, we’ll find out:

What is marketing translation?

Translation is rarely as simple as finding the closest equivalent words in the target language and writing them down.

Picture the kind of results you get when using Google Translate – especially back when it first launched. That isn’t going to persuade anyone to buy anything.

Real translation – when it’s handled by trained human professionals – is more than simply translating the words on the page or screen:

  • A professional translator gets to the meaning and concepts which the text expresses.
  • They adapt that meaning into a target text which will have the same meaning as the original.
  • It won’t just be something someone raised in another culture, speaking another language can read. It will be something they understand.

Localisation is the term that’s often used to refer to this process when it’s done properly. The localisation process used in marketing translation involves adapting your content to local expectations and preferences.

The key word to bear in mind here is adaptation. Adapting your source content involves changing, adjusting or altering it.

Transcreation is something else entirely.

What is transcreation?

Sometimes referred to as “creative translation”, transcreation is a portmanteau of “translation” and “creation”. This should give you a clue as to what’s involved in the process…

A transcreator won’t usually be adapting your existing content. Most often, they will create entirely new content. Crucially though, it’s content which has the same underlying intent as your original marketing.

This might mean that the words and images of your original content will have been reinvented and, likely, completely rewritten. But the reimagining process means that your marketing now entirely suits your new audience’s expectations and preferences.

It is perhaps the most effective method for ensuring your marketing content converts with a new target audience.

Examples of successful transcreation

A very simple example of transcreation would be to picture a US television advert for a sports brand. An advert targeting an American audience might feature a background of American football, baseball or basketball.

However, in other parts of the world, this would be far less appealing to an audience than football might be. Transcreation would involve reimagining the baseball-based advert as a football-based one.

Here are some real-world examples:

1) Haribo

Haribo’s famous jingle “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo” is known all over the world. Or is it?

If you listen to the jingle – in whatever language it’s in – you will hear the same rhythm and melody. But the words have been artfully transcreated in order to preserve the essence of the advertising message (and, incredibly, the catchy tune).

Go ahead and sing the Spanish, French and German versions of the song to the familiar tune:

  • German – Haribo macht Kinder froh – und Erwachsene ebenso (roughly: “Haribo makes children happy – and grown-ups too”)
  • French – Haribo, c’est beau la vie – pour les grands et les petits (roughly: “Haribo, life is beautiful – for grownups and children”)
  • Spanish – Vive un sabor mágico – ven al mundo Haribo (roughly: “Experience a magical taste – come to the world of Haribo”)

2) Al Jazeera

Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera’s domestic brand features aesthetically pleasing golden Arabic letters twined together.
But when their broadcasts are shown in the west, they are shown as part of the “AJ+” brand. The symbol is unrecognisable as an iteration of the original.

Yet it is perfectly in keeping with the branding which might be expected of a “western” media channel.

3) Peter Parker/ Pavitr Prabhakar

Peter Parker is the mild-mannered alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. Unless you are in India, that is.

Here, Peter Parker goes by the name Pavitr Prabhakar. He wears a transformed costume which includes dhoti (the standard lower-body garment for most men in India) and is often depicted fighting evil in places which will be clearly familiar to an Indian audience.

Transcreation and marketing translation: the differences

Transcreation and marketing translation have quite a lot in common. After all, they both aim to make your marketing materials powerful, effective and persuasive to a new target audience who have been raised in a different culture and who speak a different language.

The difference is, perhaps, a matter of degree. Marketing translation might involve the localisation of things like idioms and slang – essentially reimagining them for your new audience. The goal is to reproduce the feeling contained in that phrase or joke in the translated version.

Transcreation takes this process to its logical extreme. Your entire project is considered as a whole. The goal is to pinpoint the feeling and purpose of the campaign and recreate them for a new audience.

This means that the two approaches are often used on the same project. A brand might transcreate elements such as their logo, colour scheme and slogans while localising – using marketing translation techniques – the main part of their advertising copy.

The key transcreation principles

In order to make the transcreation process truly effective, there are certain principles which need to be adhered to:

1) Concept is everything

The words used in your original marketing content are less important than your concept as a whole.

Looking at the third example above, the basic concept is a young superhero who fights evil using powers loosely based on those of a spider. Transplanting that concept into the setting of India – completely different culturally as well as linguistically from the original’s New York City home – requires identifying what about the concept is essential to it.

Capturing the “feel” of what makes Spider-Man, Spider-Man can then be applied universally. That is, as long as the translator has an in-depth knowledge of your target language and culture.

It’s for this reason that at Asian Absolute we only ever use highly experienced translators who are native to the target culture.
Doing otherwise risks the creation of a surface-level interpretation which, at best, fails to convert. And at worst, does serious harm to your brand reputation.

2) Focus on your goal

Your marketing content will be produced with set aims in mind. Brand awareness? Sales? The priority is to achieve those aims.

It’s important not to adopt a cookie-cutter approach to transcreation. Each project needs to be addressed individually.

3) Be cohesive and consistent

All elements of your design must be adapted or recreated for new audiences in a consistent way.

For example, some international advertising campaigns use transcreation for things like slogans and an approach more like marketing translation for the main copy. But the two approaches shouldn’t be used in isolation.

Translators must know and understand the meaning and message behind the transcreated tagline so it can be properly applied when translating text or when it is applied to other channels such as print or television.

Those other marketing channels must also be borne in mind when adapting or recreating the campaign in the first place. For instance, Coke once produced over 100 carefully transcreated and adapted images for use in all of the channels they planned to use for a single campaign.

The challenges of transcreation

Adhering to the above transcreation principles is just the start. There are also numerous challenges to be overcome if you want your newly reimagined marketing to be effective:

1) Lack of local cultural knowledge

Without in-depth, native-level cultural knowledge of the market you are targeting, your marketing is almost guaranteed to fall flat.

Always, always use a translator or transcreator who knows the local culture – preferably because it’s their own.

Otherwise, you risk trying to transcreate a concept which is already going to be:

  • Offensive
  • Inappropriate
  • Inapplicable

A good example is the sports brand Puma. The brand thought that the 40th National Day celebrated by the United Arab Emirates might be a good reason to produce a range of sports footwear featuring the UAE flag.

The brand hadn’t considered that local people might take offence to their flag being cheapened in such a way – or that shoes are widely perceived as being spiritually as well as literally unclean in many Arab cultures.

If you want to avoid costly errors like this, evaluating your entire project from concept onwards will be a key part of any transcreation or international marketing project you start.

2) Being too literal

Often, efforts to transcreate marketing content for a new audience fail because the essence of what makes a campaign or brand unique is lost in the process.

One of the best examples of this actually comes from the world of cinema. Specifically, the work done to transcreate the marketing of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, into Spanish.

The translation team recreated the poetic, meaningful and intrigue-inspiring original title as ¡Olvídate de mí! (Forget About Me!).

If you take a look at the images used to market the film in English-speaking and Spanish markets in combination with that change in title meaning, you would be forgiven for thinking you are looking at two different films. One, an exploration of what love and romance can mean. The other, a Jim Carrey comedy vehicle.

Now, it’s not unreasonable to expect a movie starring Jim Carrey to be light-hearted. But anyone with even a vague awareness of the plot of Eternal Sunshine will be, at best, slightly confused by the decision of the team involved in this particular transcreation effort.

3) Forgetting it’s a team effort

The examples of Puma and Eternal Sunshine given above were not entirely the fault of the actual translators working on the project.

The management of the project, the creation of clearly defined goals for it and the efforts of the professional translators and transcreators themselves all need to be carefully aligned in order to create an outcome which is a cleverly reimagined version of the original material which is natural for the target culture.

4) Lack of local marketing knowledge

If someone is going to be transcreating your marketing content, they should also have extensive marketing experience. Importantly, this should be experience that’s been gained in your target culture.

This means a good transcreator will have the skills of an excellent copywriter as well as those of a brilliant translator.

Because an ingenious creative reimagining of your marketing content is all very well. But if it doesn’t actually convert prospects from your audience or achieve your goals, then you might as well as not have started the project in the first place.

For instance, Asian Absolute will always use translators with extensive native marketing experience or qualifications for all your marketing and advertising-focused projects.

When should I use transcreation?

Your priority should always be to ensure that your message is delivered in the right way. Ideally, you want the new local versions of your marketing content to create the same emotional response as your original does.

Using a combination of both transcreation and marketing translation techniques in a single project is often the best solution. But there are some projects which tend to be naturally more suitable for one or the other:

Slogans and marketing catchphrases: transcreation

Short snippets of text which encapsulate the rest of your campaign should always be transcreated.

Good slogans often involve things like metaphors and wordplay or are based on a cultural understanding of certain elements or idioms. This makes them incredibly challenging to translate directly.

Brand and product names: transcreation

The same is true of brand and product names. A lot of effort usually goes into creating a single product name. Your brand can represent years of hard work to refine and build on your part.

This means that it is worth taking the time to find out whether there are already exiting meanings attached to your brand or product name. If so, careful transcreation is certainly going to be called for.

Otherwise, you might end up with product name translation fails as bad as:

  • Ford “Pinto” (slang for “small male genitals” to the Brazilian market)
  • Nokia “Lumia” phone (slang for “prostitute” to the Spanish market)
  • iPhone “Siri” personal assistant (slang for “male genitals” to the Georgian market)
  • Iranian “Barf” fabric detergent (Barf, meaning “snow”, definitely needed some proper translation for non-Iranian markets)

Creative content: transcreation

All types of creative writing are prime candidates for transcreation. A standard example would be a novel. Directly translating the words of the original book is unlikely to recreate the same feelings and imagery in the mind of a reader.

The same is also true of creative content used in marketing, such as:

  • Headlines
  • Metaphors
  • Puns and wordplay in general
  • Tunes and rhymes

Video content and TV advertising: transcreation

Television adverts and a great deal of video content will feature things like casual or colloquial language as well as the same slogans and catchphrases as written creative content.

Unless it’s of a very technical or instructional nature, video content and advertisements will almost always benefit from a high degree of localisation or complete transformation.

Press releases: translation

A press release tends to be more of a statement of fact than a creative endeavour.

It is still important to localise your message for different international audiences and cultures. But you will rarely need to completely reimagine the entire release.

Product descriptions and instructions: translation

As factual documents, product descriptions and instructions require clear language. That language should be adapted to the expectations and cultural understanding of your audience via smart localisation.

But again, it probably won’t need to be creatively reimagined.

Transcreation vs marketing translation – getting the advice you need

As always, your Language Service Provider will be the place to start when you’re making decisions as to whether transcreation or marketing translation is best for your marketing content.

Talk to one of Asian Absolute’s award-winning project managers today.

We’ll help you get the best results when translating your marketing content for audiences from almost any culture or region in the world.

Get in touch with us now. We’ll be glad to answer any questions you might have.