What is Transcreation? The Definitive Guide

Everybody knows about translation, but have you heard the term transcreation?

We think you’ll agree that successful international businesses understand the vital importance of accurate document translation.

Textbook examples of serious—and sometimes cringe-worthy—translation errors abound.

There’s Kentucky Fried Chicken’s slogan, “Finger Lickin’ Good,” which was translated into Chinese as “Eat Your Fingers Off.”

Colgate marketed a brand of toothpaste in France called “Cue” without realizing it was also the name of a French pornographic magazine.

The “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” campaign debuted in China as “Pepsi brings you back from the grave.”

And the American Dairy Association’s “Got Milk?” campaign faltered in Spanish-speaking countries when translated as “Are you lactating?”

Inaccurate translations can damage corporate reputations and profits, so businesses need to choose their words wisely when dealing with customers in a foreign language. Seeking help from highly qualified, experienced translators is key.

That said, the dynamics of the global marketing of goods and services have grown even more complex. Here’s the bottom line:

These days, international companies are going beyond translation and embracing transcreation.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation is using an original text or concept to adapt or re-create a message in a different language while making sure the new text is suitable, relevant and useful for the intended local audience and application.

Transcreation may also be referred to as creative translation, cross-market copywriting, or global copy adaptation.


What is the purpose of transcreation?

The goal of transcreation is two-fold. The new copy must:

  • resonate with the chosen audience and
  • be targeted and localized to that group and its culture.

In a nutshell, here’s how the process works:

By beginning with an understanding of why the source text succeeds in stimulating certain reactions among readers, transcreation specialists can preserve the “look and feel” of the original copy and to re-create its emotional impact.


Transcreation vs. translation: What’s the difference?

Let’s clarify the transcreation definition further.

Here are six key differences between translation and transcreation:

  1.  Translation involves taking words from one language and converting them into another language. Translators must be faithful to the original meaning of the passage. They must convey subtle nuances as well as broad ideas in the most concise and effective way possible.
    The most successful translations do not simply convert passages of text “word for word.” Instead, they paraphrase the original text, using fresh combinations of words to ensure the accurate transfer of meaning.Ideally, translators fluent in two (or more) languages translate passages of text into their native language. Often, these individuals are selected not only for their linguistic ability but also for their expertise in technical areas such as accounting, manufacturing, engineering or law.On the other hand, transcreation specialists are essentially multilingual copywriters. They often begin their process not only with a passage of text but with a creative brief, or a conceptual outline of the proposed message and the action it is intended to inspire in the audience.
  2. Transcreation specialists typically bring creative writing flair to the task at hand.They are commonly employed to develop creative, market-focused copy, such as websites, brochures, television and radio advertising, posters and fliers.They create documents in the areas of marketing, advertising or media, where readers must be persuaded to do something as a result of reading the text.
  3. Transcreation specialists are mindful of cultural references.These references include such things as local foods, clothing styles, music, film, celebrities and political figures, television characters and so on, as well as current idioms and wordplay (such as puns, rhymes, alliteration, etc.) specific to the target language.Cultural references also include established social cues, such as expressions of emotions, gestures, body language, and facial expressions that members of the culture would immediately recognize and respond to.
  4. Transcreation specialists are careful to avoid using cultural references that don’t work well in the target culture.They are aware that certain brand names, slogans or even product uses may not translate well into another culture. For example, what may be an everyday item in one culture may be a luxury item in another.
  5. Transcreation specialists are more likely to work in teams, whereas translators may tend to work independently—with required proofreading and quality checks performed by others, of course.At Protranslating, a project manager leads a team of linguists, specialists in advertising and marketing, and subject matter experts drawn from a pool of more than 5,000 cultural consultants worldwide.
  6. Translators typically bill by the word, whereas transcreation specialists bill by the hour.

The elements of transcreation

Transcreation includes several components:

  • Research – background information provides an understanding of what drives consumers in each market to purchase a specific product or service
  • Marketing expertise – this knowhow informs how the transcreation specialist shapes the copy to conform to the intended motivations and “hot buttons” of the target audience
  • Linguistic skills – transcreation specialists must have native language fluency to be able to adapt text effectively from one language and culture to another
  • Deep knowledge of the target culture – this includes an understanding of the differences between cultures as well as among sub-cultures within individual countries
  • Sensitivity to visual imagery – when creating documents, transcreation specialists also consider the visual components and layout of their documents and advise clients about which images will work best in a particular market.

Wrap-up on transcreation

Global customers are linguistically and culturally diverse. Therefore, to market effectively to them requires both translation and transcreation expertise. The two go hand in hand.

By maintaining the intent, style, tone and context of the original material, transcreation allows a company to market its products internationally and to transcend the boundaries of language and culture.

Click here to learn more about the services we offer in these arenas.