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  • Writer's pictureNixie Adams

Creative Translation or Transcreation?

We’ve all heard of translation and, in particular, marketing translation. People usually use this term when they refer to a creative translation that’s going to be used to showcase a company or brand on a global stage, or for communications targeting an international audience. Fewer people will have heard of the term transcreation. It is an even more creative approach to translation and has a lot in common with monolingual copywriting. So what sets it apart, and why is it important? Let’s take a look!

What is marketing translation?

First of all, let’s make sure we are familiar with what actually makes a translation a marketing translation. Marketing translations are needed when a text contains some cultural or creative aspects that are aimed at promoting awareness, driving sales or enhancing the image of a product, service or brand. As the source text is usually creative, the translation also needs to reflect the same degree of creativity and go beyond a literal rendering of the source text. So a creative process is typically needed — to a greater or lesser extent in each case. However, the output is still very much influenced by the source text, so we can’t call this a transcreation.

A marketing translation needs to fully convey the original message while factoring in cultural sensitivities in the target version. The degree of freedom as to how much the translation is permitted to deviate from the source is much more limited than with transcreation. Images or page layouts, for example, are usually retained in a marketing translation but may be adapted as part of a transcreation. Marketing translation is usually a good choice for longer marketing materials such as online content, brochures, product descriptions, newsletters, event details and corporate presentations.

What is transcreation?

So what, then, is transcreation and how does it differ from marketing translation? According to the official definition presented in the TAUS transcreation course, transcreation is called on when it comes to rendering a source text with a highly creative component, which is significantly influenced by the brand and campaign particulars. The starting point is still a source text, but the target version is much more focused on conveying the desired impact on a specific target audience rather than producing a faithful literal rendering of the source. To achieve this goal, the transcreator must be granted a high degree of creative freedom to enable them to capture not only the factual and technical aspects of the content, but most of all the desired emotional effect on the target audience. For this reason, a solid project brief, including all relevant brand and campaign information, is crucial for the transcreation to succeed.

What’s more, the transcreator also needs to take into account all possible factors that might create an effective emotional impact on the target audience. This can include specifics such as particular social, cultural or even political elements. Naturally, this makes any transcreated content more subjective than a marketing translation, so the commissioning client needs to be sure they select an experienced, trustworthy transcreator to enure the best results for the company. Most often, transcreation is needed for shorter advertising content, and for more brand-driven content where the principal goal is to resonate with the target audience. Typical examples are slogans, headers or taglines.

How transcreation works

Transcreation is meant to support cross-cultural marketing, which is why it needs to go beyond literal equivalence and faithfulness to the source content. In fact, transcreation has to recreate the emotional response the source content elicits in the target audience. For this reason, transcreation requires a more holistic approach than marketing translation. That means it goes beyond just a piece of written content and addresses the entire context of the message, including, for example, the campaign strategy and visuals.

The goal of transcreation is therefore to transfer not only the meaning of the source language message into a target language, but also — and primarily — its style, tone of voice, intent and emotional effect. So a transcreated text not only uses a target language but also speaks to a specific target culture or target audience. It may even address a specific sub-group such as skateboarders or frequent travellers. To do this successfully, cultural elements play a critical role. These include local customs, beliefs and sensitivities, dialects, idioms, humour or the socio-economic context of the target group.

The major added-value of transcreation as part of a global advertising campaign is to be locally effective while still adhering to the brand or company’s global strategy. A cultural faux pas in a campaign can damage a brand in ways that can be difficult to repair. That’s why visual elements such as colours and icons also need to be adapted to the cultural preferences of the target market.

Some transcreation examples

The most obvious content that needs to be locally adapted to the target region or cultures are product names or taglines that would not be understood outside a specific local setting. Apple: Apple, for example, initially advertised its iPod shuffle mp3 player with the slogan ‘Small Talk’. But, as language industry expert Nataly Kelly points out in her book ‘Found in Translation’, that short slogan proved quite difficult to translate. In English ‘small talk’ is an idiomatic phrase, which is meaningless in other languages when it is translated 1:1. Although other languages may have a similar idiom, it may not contain the word ‘small’ and thus the world play would be lost. In the end, Apple had to recreate the slogan from scratch for its different target languages and even local variants — the slogan had to be transcreated. Here’s what the transcreators came up with:

  • Latin American Spanish: Mira quién habla (‘Look who’s talking’)

  • European Spanish: Ya sabe hablar (‘Already knows how to talk’),

  • French: Donnez-liu de la voix (‘Let him speak’)

  • Canadian French: Petit parleur, grand faiseur (‘Says little, does a lot’)

As you can see, all of these slogans are very different. But they all communicate the same idea, namely amazement at how much this small device can do. is Dubai’s largest online retailer. When it wanted to introduce the famous American ‘Black Friday’ sale in the United Arab Emirates, the company chose to go with the transcreated name ‘White Friday’. The reasons behind this transcreation are, for one, that Friday is the day dedicated to worship in Muslim countries, and secondly, in Middle-Eastern culture the colour black has a negative connotation because it is associated with mourning. White, on the other hand, is associated with innocence and thus has a positive connotation. If had called it’s campaign ‘Black Friday’, this would have likely caused offence in the target region and the campaign would have backfired. It’s important to bear in mind that colours have different meanings and implications in different countries, so their use should be very carefully evaluated during the transcreation process.

Honda: Honda’s ‘Fitta’ model had to be renamed to ‘Honda Jazz’ in Scandinavian countries as after its launch. That’s because the company realised that the word ‘fitta’ is a vulgarity in many Nordic languages. A thorough transcreation process before launching the campaign would have prevented this embarrassing cultural faux pas! And a lot of money could have been saved because Honda spent a fortune on the ‘Fitta’ marketing collateral and branding.


Transcreation typically requires more time and resources than a literal or marketing translation, but the extra effort is sure to pay off, and the investment will likely pay for itself many times over in the long run.


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