Clear communication is more important than ever before if you want to reach diverse audiences in today’s globalised world. Transcreation is a vital tool to help you achieve that clarity. 

But what is transcreation? Why do you need it? 

In short, transcreation is a type of creative translation. If you want to boost your sales, customer engagement, or brand reputation in a new market, you’re going to want to know about it. 

Because if your goal is the kind of meaningful connection with a non-domestic audience that will encourage interaction or grow brand awareness, adapting your message so that it is linguistically and culturally compelling is vital. 

Here’s how the transcreation process helps you do just that:

What is transcreation? 

Transcreation is a portmanteau of the words “translation” and “creation”. It’s the name attached to a specific type of translation that is a unique blend of linguistics and creative copywriting. 

The most important thing to understand about transcreation is that the result will not be a direct translation of your original content. More often than not, a translated version of your original text will be used as the basis of a transcreated piece. 

The result will be something in your target language that is wholly new. It will remain true to the message and goals of your original piece. But it will now be entirely culturally appropriate to your target audience. 

This may sound small. But transcreation intrinsically recognises that your original piece had a goal (to build emotional resonance or have your reader take action). And that the best way to achieve that goal will be different for consumers raised in different cultures. 

This complex and challenging task frequently requires multiple professionals – both translators and copywriters. The output will be more strategic, directed messaging adapted to your new audience. And all the more effective because of it. 

The process of transcreation 

  1. Transcreation is a creative process. However, there is usually a flow of work that looks something like this: 
    1. Original content creation – you create (for example) your marketing campaign for your domestic audience. 
    1. Transcreation team assembly – your Language Service Provider puts together a team of translators, marketers (because this is the type of content being transcreated), and local cultural experts for your project. 
    1. Source material analysis – the best transcreation relies on a thorough understanding of the goals of your original content in addition to market surveys, demographics, and more. This enables the creation of a detailed creative brief for your transcreation team. 
    1. Content translation – your campaign (in this instance) is translated into your target language. 
    1. Creative writing – your team works creatively to create new, culturally relevant and compelling content for your campaign in your target language in line with the analysis and creative brief. 

Why do you need transcreation? 

You need transcreation if you want your original content – your marketing campaign, your branding, your video content, even your film or video game – to retain its tone, intent, and style when deployed in a new market in a new language. 

The reason for this is simple. Something like marketing – a prime example of material that frequently benefits from transcreation – relies on understanding and playing off its target audience’s culture to achieve its purpose. 

For instance, humour usually has a cultural element. Colours have different symbolism attached in different places. A directly translated idiom will often be completely nonsensical. 

All of these elements and more need to be carefully adapted based on deep knowledge of your target region’s culture if you are to: 

  • Ensure your message resonates emotionally with your target audience 
  • Attract consumers’ attention (in a positive way!) 
  • Increase customer engagement and interactions 
  • Create culturally sensitive and appropriate content 
  • Maximise your Return On Investment 

Transcreation vs. translation: understanding the differences 

Translation 

Translation is all about conveying the meaning of an original (source) document in a new (target)  language. 

To do this well, a good translator may need to stray away from the exact words that are used. Even if only to ensure that the resultant target document reads naturally and fluently. Overall though, the goal with translation will usually be to stick closely to the source text. 

You might often prefer to focus your approach around translation (usually selecting a translator with relevant subject matter expertise) for projects such as: 

  • Technical documents 
  • Product documentation or instruction manuals 
  • Some kinds of articles 
  • User reviews 
  • Legal documents 

Transcreation 

Transcreation, on the other hand, is a much more creative process. In it, cultural sensitivity and understanding are highly prized because of their effectiveness. 

A transcreator will benefit from the same kind of creative brief that you might give a copywriter or graphic designer. This is because they will actually be creating something new. 

You will probably benefit from an approach that features transcreation if your project includes things like: 

  • Marketing and advertising 
  • Social media content 
  • Branding 
  • Slogans and taglines 
  • Signage and digital banners 

A note on localisation 

It is also worth mentioning localisation. Localisation is a type of translation that involves some degree of adaptation of your original source content with an eye on the linguistic and cultural norms of your target region. 

This relies on the same kind of cultural expertise as transcreation. You might adapt what is being said, the colours used in a web page design, the payment methods or time and date formats, for example. All based on what you know of local preferences. 

However, this is still more closely tied to the idea of translating and adapting the original content rather than creatively reinventing it as the transcreation process would. 

You would likely benefit from an approach that includes localisation if your project features: 

  • Marketing and advertising 
  • Websites 
  • User experience elements 
  • Email campaigns 
  • Multimedia content

The importance of transcreation in modern marketing

One of the key benefits of transcreation when used in modern marketing is its ability to maintain brand consistency across regions and cultures. 

The changes and adaptations this produces can be both subtle and dramatic. Take this side-by-side example: 

1) McDonald’s in Italy 

Global fast food chain McDonald’s wanted to reach the potentially lucrative Italian market. 

One of its highest priorities was an effective translation of its famous  “I’m lovin’ it” catchphrase. Because of the culturally determined effectiveness of slogans, this would need to be a transcreation. 

Unfortunately, after working extensively with marketing specialists, it found no Italian transcreation that could create the same impact and on-brand message as the original. 

Instead, they kept the English original. In this fairly unique case, this actually worked to maintain brand consistency and highlighted McDonald’s American roots. 

2) McDonald’s in India 

McDonald’s is, essentially, a burger restaurant. Roughly 40% of all Indians are vegetarian. While that number is not as high as many stereotypes insist (again we see market knowledge’s importance), it doesn’t necessarily follow that this would be an ideal market for the brand. 

However, McDonald’s desperately wanted to break into the Indian market. It was willing to localise and transcreate a great deal of its brand to do so. 

Working with local partners, it localised everything from its branding to its menu. Items like the Chicken Maharajah Mac and Aloo Tikki Burger (inspired by Indian street food) were added. Beef and pork were dropped. 

This kind of product transcreation is a step beyond anything many brands or SMEs might do. Another example might be the difference in copy, graphics, and colours that are very obvious when you compare Starbucks’ US and Japanese websites. 

In the McDonald’s case, even though this may appear on the surface to potentially dilute the brand, it in fact doubles down on its true values. In this case, these are a repeatable level of quality, affordable pricing, and food that caters to local tastes, delivered fast. 

Best practices for effective transcreation 

1) Use it in its right place 

Transcreation is a challenging creative process that requires multiple types of skilled professionals. Thus, it tends to be more expensive than other types of translation. 

On top of this, not all content needs to be transcreated. Some content may actually be better when localised or translated. It’s all about the type of content and what you want it to achieve. 

This means that before you start any transcreation process, you need to assess exactly how much of your project requires transcreation. 

Always discuss the matter with your Language Service Provider. Their experience means they can provide valuable advice. 

2) Select the right team 

The transcreation process requires linguists, creatives, and local cultural specialists. Sometimes, multiple roles may be fulfilled by a single person. But it’s more common for transcreation to involve a team of professionals. 

Make sure your Language Service Provider selects your transcreation team carefully. Don’t overlook the vital nature of local cultural knowledge. 

3) Provide a clear brief 

You should also be sure to provide a detailed brief for your creative team that includes things like: 

  • An overview of the concept 
  • Your goals and objectives for the piece 
  • Brand guidelines and brand assets to be used 
  • Any supplementary data or research about your target audience 
  • Examples of previous translations or other campaigns you like 

Without this kind of briefing, any kind of creative project is doomed to fall short of the great things it could achieve. Transcreation is no exception. 

4) Call in local cultural expertise 

Transcreation relies on deep understanding of your target region in order to engage customers, increase brand awareness, and boost your ROI. 

Conversely, the failure to understand local culture can have serious, brand-damaging consequences. 

Think of UK telecom brand Orange’s introduction of their famous “The future’s bright – the future’s Orange” slogan to the Northern Ireland market. 

In Northern Ireland, there are – to put it mildly – long-standing historical disagreements between Protestants and Catholics. The slogan was seen as the brand “taking a side” in a then-fraught national debate (orange is long associated with the Orange Order, a Protestant organisation). 

This utter failure to understand the implications in a market actually within the brand’s own country only goes to show how easy it is to fall afoul of a lack of cultural understanding. 

5) Test and get feedback 

So many hugely costly translation errors of the past few decades (Pepsi’s classic “Bring your ancestors back from the grave” or HSBC’s “Do nothing”) could have been avoided if just one person from the target region had been consulted for feedback. 

Always, always ensure your translated or transcreated content has been viewed by local testers or test groups and feedback sourced before you publish on any major scale. 

Embracing transcreation for global success 

Transcreation plays a critical role in effective global marketing and communications. Without such a creative approach, translation and localisation would struggle to adapt messaging that relies on cultural understanding to have the greatest impact. 

Transcreation is not automatically the superior choice for any translation project. But it is vital for branding, slogans, and other marketing elements. Without it, properly and strategically applied, humour fails, impact is diluted, and misunderstandings are common. 

If your goal as a business leader is to enhance your international presence and 

connect more authentically with diverse audiences, understanding what transcreation is and what its smart application looks like is the way to achieve global success. 

Want to talk over your latest marketing translation project with an expert? 

Asian Absolute already works with market-leading brands including Coca-Cola and The Financial Times to localise and transcreate their content for global audiences. 

Reach out to us today for a cost and commitment-free discussion about your goals.