Insights January 7, 2018

Transcreation. The next level.

Katharine Marr
By Katharine Marr

Transcreation is the process of creatively adapting text from one language into another while placing special emphasis on retaining the core message, intent, tone, style and context.

In the main, transcreation is a term used by marketing professionals and makes the distinction between simple translation and highly creative translation. It is, in essence, marketing translation.

When campaign text is needed in another language for an overseas market, it requires more than just ‘translation’. The text is often almost completely rewritten so that it sounds fluent, idiomatic and as though it was originally copy written in the target language.

At the same time, the linguist will look at the cultural correctness of the text to ensure the transcreated version is relevant to the intended audience and respects local protocol and etiquette to make it as appealing and engaging as possible.


In other words, the text, style, tone, analogies and idioms all need to be checked to ensure they are suitable for the target market. Even the accompanying diagrams need to be thought about: a line of diagrammatic instructions used in Europe might not work in the Middle East – in Arabic, they read from right to left!

Linguists who transcreate copy must have a first-rate knowledge of the source language and be a native speaker of the target language.

Crucially, they also need to have a sound understanding of the two cultures involved – many will have lived in, or studied in, the country the source copy originated from. They should also now reside in the country of the target market and be accomplished writers.

This is hugely important for successful transcreation because a transcreation specialist needs to have no fear of moving away from the original source text to create target text that is idiomatic and reads naturally.

They need to know the current language trends and how people communicate as well as any relevant (or potentially conflicting) current events. Their goal is to capture both the hearts and minds of the audience with your marketing message: same idea, different words.

Get the cultural aspects wrong and your brand could be severely damaged.

Taker the case of PUMA, a leading sports shoe manufacturer. To celebrate the 40th National Day of the United Arab emirates in 2011, they proudly designed commemorative trainers in the colours of the UAE flag. Unfortunately, in Arabic culture, a shoe is seen as something that is thrown to show dislike toward someone or something so this was seen as greatly disrespectful to the nation. Shoes are considered unclean.

Unsurprisingly, the company had to withdraw the trainers from sale.

What’s in a name?

It is always wise to run the name of new products past people who live in the countries you intend to sell them.

Honda. Bless ’em. They were all set to launch the Fitta. Now, in English, this might seem appropriate for a car – sounding like being ‘fitter’ for the road. Unfortunately, the name didn’t have quite the same appeal in Nordic languages, where it is used as a vulgar term for female genitalia.

Wrecked car cartoon

Other unfortunate examples include: the Chevrolet ‘Nova’ (‘No va’ in Spanish means ‘It doesn’t go’!); Mazda’s ‘LaPuta’ (Spanish for ‘whore’); Buick’s LaCrosse (French for the act of self-pleasuring), Motorola’s ‘Q’ phone (which sounds a bit too much like a French word for your bottom); and Nissan’s ‘Moco’ (Spanish for something that comes out of your nose).

Ideally, of course, good transcreation will improve on the original.

A cracking example here is the ‘Swiffer’ range of cleaning products. Procter and Gamble’s catchline for this was “When Swiffer’s the one, consider it done” – catchy and rhyming , in English at least!

The Italian transcreator for this campaign soon realised that a literal translation wouldn’t be catchy and certainly wouldn’t rhyme – so it just wouldn’t work.

Instead, they came up with “La polvere non dura, perché Swiffer la cattura” – both rhyming and catchy in Italian and back-translates as “Dust doesn’t linger because Swiffer catches it”. Again, same meaning, different words.

It is absolutely vital that this transcreation process is well thought out. When a native speaker in, say, Brazil or Korea reads a translated advert or catch line, their brain gives no quarter to the fact that it was probably originally conceived in English, and that what they are reading is a close translation.

When they read that ad, it either works in that language – or it fails!

Remember, that advert isn’t competing among others to be a close or just-about-acceptable translation, it is competing to stand out among other adverts that were conceived and written in that speaker’s native language. So it has to sound and feel as though it was written that way.

Anything less will make it seem inferior and will not cause the reader to engage with your brand. It fails.

How to…

So how do you avoid all these pitfalls?

First, when launching a new brand, product or service that you’re going to sell in abroad, involve your creative translation agency from the start.

However good the transcreation specialist they choose for you is, they absolutely must be given a brief that allows them to understand the concept, the message, the tone and nuances behind it. Without this, they can’t even begin to get the right feel for your message.

Provide your creative translation agency with all the same material you would provide for your own copy writers – story boards, flow charts, mood boards, graphics and customer profiles will all help the transcreator ensure your message crosses borders in a natural, engaging way.

Likewise for the layout. Does the text fit the layout OK? Send your layout to your transcreation agency so the linguist can check!


Allow plenty of time! Give a linguist a strapline and they can translate it word-for-word in less than three minutes. But to come up with something that really works in the target language and market might take three days. They might try dozens of ideas permutations before they come up with some options that are up to the mark (often known as ‘adaptation‘).

The same goes for marketing translations for brochures and the like. A 100-word simple translation might take less than an hour…  but to do a ‘proper job’ – a quality transcreation – will take a lot longer.

It’s simply no good to say ‘here’s our campaign in English and we want to go to print with it in German in two days’.

And be prepared to allow time for your own, native speaking in-country managers to review the text and determine if they are happy with it.

At Living Word, we choose our transcreators on their ability to understand the subject matter and the market; on their writing skills, their accuracy and their experience. They are all native-speakers of the target language and in-country linguists.

If you would like to discuss your next transcreation project, we’re here to help: please email or call +44 (0)845 873 7898.