Transcreation: The Rolls Royce of Translation

Or, in Brazil, “the McLaren Senna of Translation.”
Staying true to your brand is challenging when entering new markets. Your core message and creative concepts may simply not resonate, and local cultural nuance and linguistic characteristics might mean you can’t directly reuse the finely crafted message you created for your North American audience in countries such as China or Sweden.

Everything matters

When it comes to achieving the full impact that your brand can have in your target markets, every word and image will matter. To ensure your message is successfully delivered, it is crucial to select the right translation method for your content type.

Transcreation Rolls Royce - body

Translation versus transcreation

So what’s the difference between translation and transcreation?


For translation, think words; for transcreation, think feelings.

Ultimately, transcreation is about finding creative ways to impart a source message or content in a way that resonates in another culture. It requires a deep understanding of both languages and cultures. As the intersection of translating the old and creating the new, it is “trans-creation.”

The central skill required for transcreation is creative writing, with deep knowledge of the target culture and the target language. In short, only a poet can translate poetry. Likewise, transcreation aims at achieving the same impact as your original message.

Examples to make you laugh or cry

Transcreation is not language-based, but culture-based. As such, it goes beyond preserving the words and structure of your message, focusing on how your product should be presented for optimal acceptance.

When translated for the Brazilian market, Intel’s “Sponsors of Tomorrow” implied Intel would not deliver on its promises immediately. The slogan was later transcreated as “Intel: In Love with the Future.” Check out other funny mistranslations here.

Other issues go deeper, though, such as product names that have unfortunate meanings in other languages – obviously originally chosen without considering a global market:
  • The Iranian detergent “Barf” is “snow” in Farsi
  • Microsoft’s “Bing” means “disease” in Chinese
  • “Hulu” means “cease and desist” in Swahili
There are many happy transcreation stories out there too. Haribo, for example, transcreated their jingle quite successfully. In German: “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso” (Haribo makes children happy, and grownups too). In English, it became: “Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo.”

Five shades of marketing

Some believe that all marketing content should be transcreated, but the reality is that marketing content comprises vastly different content types:

  • Advertisement
  • Videos
  • Brochures, eBooks, infographics, posters
  • Social media posts
  • Websites
  • Promotional emails
  • White papers
  • Press releases
  • Training material
Each of these has different levels of complexity and inherent cultural weight. When choosing between a translation or a transcreation approach, the creative and potentially subjective aspects of your content are what really matters.

Does your content utilize the language itself as a tool, such as in plays on words, rhyme, or alliteration? Or does it rely on source cultural references, such as popular media, traditions or imagery?

Levels of transcreation

Even within the realm of transcreation, there are different methodologies:
  • Blind transcreation: Without seeing the source content, an in-country copywriter revises the target-language material after traditional translation to eliminate any potential negative impact and maximize the positive impact without changing basic structure.
  • Transcreation with a brief: For content that relies heavily on customs, idiomatic expressions, rhyme or cultural references, a bicultural consultant analyzes the source copy and suggest alternatives for potential issues, including excessive formality or informality and inappropriate imagery. 
  • Transformative transcreation: For full transcreation, new assets are created in the target country by a native creative team and tested on local focus audiences to ensure it achieves the desired impact. This is often the choice of leading global consumer brands such as Apple and Under Armour.

An option not to be ignored: leave it in the original language

There will be situations where your best choice is not to translate at all. McDonald’s got mixed results from their efforts to transcreate its “I’m lovin’ it” ad campaigns into 20 languages for 120 different countries. It worked for many countries, but not so well in Ukraine, France and Germany. As a result, they decided not to translate or transcreate their ads for countries where most people speak at least some English.

Your Language Service Provider should be able to help you with these brand-vital decisions. Make sure to ask your trusted project manager for guidance! To learn more about SDL’s transcreation offering, please visit SDL Marketing Solutions.

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