Transcreation is the tool you need if you are trying to make a powerful connection with your international audience.

Because if you want it to be effective, your marketing – and other content that you want to create a real emotional impact – needs to be carefully adapted to your audience. It needs to understand their needs, wants, cultural norms and expectations.

If not, you risk your content falling flat. Or worse, causing offence – in this case, the only impact it would create would be a negative one on your brand image.

Transcreation – the creative translation of your content – allows you to generate the same emotional reaction for audiences raised in different cultures. This is important when you are targeting any non-domestic part of the world. Even if the people there speak the same language that you do.

This is part of the localisation process where you really get to grips with local conditions and norms. In turn, this means it calls for much more than a straightforward translation of the words of your original content.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation is a portmanteau of “translation” and “creation”. Other synonyms might include “cultural adaptation” or “creative translation”. If you have ever heard someone mention “international copy adaptation”, this is what they are talking about.

Transcreation is a special type of translation where the goal is to convey certain elements of the original content in the target language, chiefly the:

  • Message
  • Concepts
  • Ideas
  • Tone and style
  • Emotion and emotional reaction

This often includes adapting or creatively re-imagining the visual and audio design as well as the words used. It’s a creative process. The cultural norms and background of the target audience are carefully researched and taken into account.

A transcreation should retain as many aspects of your original design as possible so that the two are generally consistent. But there is much less of a focus on directly translating any of the words originally used.

If a transcreation is done well, your new target audience should react to the transcreated version of your original content in the same way as your domestic audience does to your original.

What is localisation? Where does that come in?

Localisation is the process of adapting your content, brand, or product to a new target market or culture. Transcreation is often seen as a part of the localisation process.

Because effective localisation calls for all the actions necessary to make a given bit of content seem perfectly natural to someone from your new target audience.

Sometimes, this might mean a comparatively light touch as you adapt dates and units of measurement or translate technical terminology.

But for content such as marketing or branding – almost anything where you want the result to have a certain emotional resonance with your audience – you often need to nearly completely and creatively reimagine that content. That is where transcreation comes in.

What is the difference between translation and transcreation?

In general, a translator may use some leeway when they translate the words of a document. After all, if they translate it word for word, the target text may make no sense in the new language.

But a transcreator will have much more leeway. They may not use translations of any of the original words. They may base the new version on a creative brief instead of translating the original material at all. Their focus is on retaining the overall message and effect of the document.

Some of the major differences that set translation and transcreation apart include:

1) Cultural context

The main focus of transcreation is recreating the original content so that it is a perfect fit for the new cultural context it finds itself in.

This requires in-depth knowledge of your target culture on the part of your translation team. It’s the reason why Asian Absolute will only ever use natives of the region you are targeting to handle any translation – let alone the creative process required by transcreation.

Translating aspects like the tone and voice of a message requires a special skill set. Not every translator can carry out this kind of work.

2) Market metrics

Transcreation is the tool you need if you want to optimise your marketing for different international audiences.

Marketing materials and advertising that create the right responses in your audience need to consider culture if you want to maximise engagement and conversion.

A translation that does not consider the cultural aspect of your new audience will be – at best – much less effective. At worst, it will be actively detrimental to your objectives.

3) Cost and time

Transcreation calls for the skills of a native-speaking subject matter expert, a marketing specialist, and a master linguist able to judge tone and messaging while writing creatively. It may also require considering your overall media strategy and the local media landscape.

Sometimes these experts take the form of one highly skilled individual. On occasion, they might require a small team of professionals.

This means that transcreation will almost always be more expensive than a more straightforward translation. It also tends to require more time.

The results in terms of boosting your metrics will speak for themselves. But it’s worth bearing in mind when deciding the approach to use for a specific project.

When do you need transcreation?

Transcreation is a powerful tool, but may not be the best solution for every single project. Because of that increase in translation time and costs, it is important to carefully select the projects it is used on.

The most common types of content where transcreation is used include:

  • Branding
  • Taglines
  • Slogans
  • Brochures, flyers, and other advertising collateral
  • Sales materials

Broad rules for the types of content where you might consider transcreation might be:

1) Anywhere persuasion or emotional impact is desired

If you want to persuade or create a specific emotional response in your audience, you need to transcreate your message if you want to succeed.

2) Anywhere your priority is nuance, voice or message

Transmitting the same nuance or message or using the same tone of voice in a different language is a task that requires a transcreator.

3) Anywhere you want to closely target a specific audience

Picture two audiences who speak the same language, but with variations. Perhaps English speakers in the UK and English speakers in Singapore.

A phrase in common usage in one region may make no sense or appear very strange in the other. Consider these common examples:

  • “Last time” (Singapore) vs “in the past/ previously” (UK) – when telling a story of something that happened to them, it’s common for a Singaporean to say “last time”. In the UK, this would appear very strange to a native speaker. When they say “last time”, they mean it is the final time or the immediately preceding time.
  • “On the light” (Singapore) vs “switch on the light” (UK) – the omission of the word “switch” feels natural to a Singaporean. To someone in the UK, the word simply appears missing.

These very basic examples show that even transcreating your content for audiences who theoretically speak the same language requires knowledge and consideration if you want to make the result appear natural.

Just imagine either of those examples appearing in content intended for the other audience. Then extend the concept to more complex ideas like concepts, cultural reference points, slang and humour.

Transcreation best practices

Transcreation is not easy. It’s not a good idea to entrust a project requiring it to just anyone. For the best results when transcreating your content, always bear in mind these best practices:

1) Use a skilled native linguist

A bilingual member of staff isn’t someone you should even put the pressure of a standard translation project on – unless, of course, they are a qualified and experienced translator. The “internal bilingual colleague” solution is much worse if your project involves the much more challenging process of transcreation.

The translator working on your transcreation project should be a native speaker of your target language. Even better, they should have been raised in your target culture and preferably be based there currently. This ensures they are intimately familiar with the most modern language conventions, norms and slang.

This expert needs to understand the relevance of what they are saying and any modern trends in the industry you are in and the region as a whole.

2) Use a marketing specialist

There are some projects involving transcreation that don’t fall under the general umbrella of advertising or marketing, but not many.

This means that, in addition to their linguistic and cultural expertise, any translator handling a transcreation project for you needs to have a deep understanding of local trends, norms and expectations in marketing and advertising.

What strategies work when advertising locally? What approaches have already proven themselves ineffective here?

Only a local specialist in marketing can tell you. That’s the reason why Language Service Providers like Asian Absolute – who have extensive experience transcreating content for audiences around the world – will only ever use marketing specialists for this kind of project.

3) Use a subject matter expert

On top of linguistic, cultural and marketing expertise, your linguist – or team of linguists – needs to understand the actual products or services you sell or the industry you are in. At least, they do if you want them to be able to localise or transcreate your content successfully.

For Asian Absolute, this means locating a linguist with a minimum of Masters Degree-level qualifications and/ or five years of experience in your industry. Other translation companies may have different standards.

4) Understand local legal codes and regulations

Advertising and language used in products are covered by things like decency laws, language regulations and more. These vary by the part of the world you are in.

For example, in Canada, language laws stipulate a French and an English version of many types of content need to be available. In some parts of the Middle East, visual imagery that even implies female nudity would be considered wildly inappropriate and often illegal.

5) Research your target audience

One of the advantages of using a native of your target audience as your transcreator is that they can help you understand what will appeal to your target audience in terms of advertising message – and why.

You wouldn’t put the effort into advertising your products or services domestically without performing proper market research. That error can be all the greater when you burst into a new market, only to make a costly stumble.

6) Brief your linguist properly

For many translation projects, it can be enough to provide your linguist with the source documents, any terminology glossaries or translation memory databases, and some context about the purpose of the project.

For transcreation, you should aim to provide a proper briefing about your goals, outcomes, desired audience, demographics, and things like branding or style guides if you want the best possible outcome.

7) Make sure you review properly

Some of the biggest corporations in the world have ended up costing themselves millions by producing international advertising campaigns that one local could have told them was foolish had they seen it first.

Ensure that your transcreated content is properly edited and proofread by professionals. You might also consider back translation to get a sense of how your message is being retained and relayed in your new target materials.

You should ensure your chosen Language Service Provider uses native specialists for every stage of the review process.

Transcreate more than just the words you use

High-quality transcreation will almost always go beyond just creatively re-imagining the words in your content. Some other types of transcreation are often involved, such as:

1) Product transcreation

You can’t get more essential than this. Some projects are simply unsuitable for a specific new target audience.

Imagine if your product was beefburgers and you were trying to market to an audience containing many people who believe cows to be sacred.

McDonald’s didn’t have to imagine this situation. That’s why McDonald’s restaurants in India stock “McPaneer Royales” instead of their usual more meat-focused menu choices.

2) Design transcreation

Colours, design elements, the format and structure of your content may all need to be creatively reimagined for your new audience.

In China and many other parts of South-East Asia, colour symbolism is mainstream and treated seriously in a wide range of contexts. The implications of colour are also a major design consideration in other parts of the world – and many colours mean different things in different places.

For a great example of a brand that does this well, check out how the courier company UPS alters the colour scheme of its branding in different regions.

3) Image and video transcreation

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And it’s certainly true that when it comes to your choice of imagery in projects that require transcreation, you can’t put a value on properly adapted images and video content.

The choice of what people in images or video content are wearing. The way they are interacting with each other. The places they are shown to be. It can all help or hinder your content in its mission to connect with your audience.

4) Sound and audio transcreation

Accents and dialect also play a major role in making your content appear natural to the native ears of your audience as well as their eyes.

Even regions that speak the same language may have distinct dialect words or accents. In some countries, these may differ even in areas that are very close to each other geographically speaking. It’s even more the case between different countries with the same national languages.

For instance, an advert featuring a Mexican Spanish speaker using Mexican dialect words and accent would be less likely to connect with a Spanish-speaking audience in Spain itself.

Equally, targeting the national languages of some countries may require multiple versions – or the local knowledge to know that the day-to-day language used by local people is different.

Just picture the languages of Singapore and how you might go about recommending a foreign company go about marketing its products.

5) Transcreation for SEO purposes

Transcreation is also a vital component in SEO and online marketing campaigns. Organic SEO strategies rely on people being able to find your content. This means that both the actual content of your campaign, your keywords, as well as the marketing strategies you use may all need to be transcreated or adapted for your local audience.

As with so many advertising and marketing campaigns, more knowledge and research is better. Hopefully, knowing a little more about transcreation should show you how and why it’s important to properly target your new regional audience if you want to be successful.

Might your next translation project involve transcreation?

Let’s talk about it. Asian Absolute creates carefully localised, transcreated content for market-leading organisations in every industry.

Get in touch with us today. Let’s see what transcreation can do for you.