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Once More, With Feeling: How Transcreation Differs from Translation

Ilona K is a 5-Star writer at WriterAccess
Ilona K is a 5-Star writer at WriterAccess

What exactly are the differences between translation and transcreation?  Most people confuse the two or have never even heard of transcreation. If you look up the definition of transcreation, it generally sounds something like this: “Transcreation is a term used chiefly by advertising and marketing professionals to refer to the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.” Well, that definition sounds exactly like translation, when— in fact­— transcreation is not merely a synonym for translation. It is more like its immensely creative, artistic, flamboyant big sister.

As we all know translation is more than just words. Quality translators must not only find the right words, they must also take into account the culture, nuances, humor, and figurative language of the target country. Some translators must also be experts in certain fields such as law or medicine. It is a tough job to juggle all of the parameters of translating while staying true to the original document. They must be accurate in preserving the meaning of the original words.

But remember that flamboyant bigger sister? Well, that’s transcreation. As with translation, transcreation needs to ensure the language, slang, culture, humor, etc., is still intact. Yet, UNLIKE translation, transcreation needs to ensure the “feeling” of your message is the same. It’s the sibling who is big on ideas and motivation. If you want to create the same emotional response from your overseas clients, then you need transcreaton[Tweet it] Transcreation employs copywriters to create a brand new targeted and localized message, different from translation’s goal of accuracy to the source material.  That is why transcreation is linked to global marketing. Some say it has similar terms to describe it such as ‘in-language copywriting’, ‘cultural adaptation’ or ‘copy adaptation’.

Things won’t always stay the same

Because eliciting a certain emotional response in the target audience is paramount, transcreation doesn’t always mean your text will stay the same. (We have all seen ads that were “lost in translation.” These were most definitely from companies that did not use transcreation.) In fact, cultural differences are so numerous that the text may change quite a bit in order to harness that emotional response. Take Intel, the computer chip-maker. Intel’s slogan “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow” didn’t translate well in the Brazilian market. Research showed that when translated into Portuguese “Sponsors of Tomorrow,” made the people of Brazil believe that Intel would take too long to deliver on its promises. So, intel used transcreation  to appeal to the Brazilan audiences’ more ardent nature and changed  the line to “Intel: In love with the future.” That worked much better for Intel.

Similarly, in the 1990s, Swedish car manufacturer SAAB, created an ad campaign for their new convertible that would have viewers imagine themselves in wide-open spaces. Because oxygen bars were popular in the United States at the time, SAAB’s slogan read “Saab vs. Oxygen bars.” In Sweden, the ad was changed to “SAAB vs. klaustrofobi,” the Swedish word for claustrophobia, since oxygen bars did not exist in Sweden. The literal meaning was changed, but not the emotion they wanted to evoke.

Here’s looking at you, kid

In fact, using transcreation may even create a new look and feel for your campaign by changing colors, fonts and images. Graphics and images which work in one country may actually be considered offensive in another. Quality transcreators will know what may make a difference in your advertising. For example, color means very different things in different areas of the world. The color red in Western culture generally stands for love and action. It symbolizes beauty and power in India. In the Far East, red is used to indicate prosperity and good fortune. But be careful using the color red in your marketing to Middle eastern cultures where red is a symbol of danger and evil.

UnSplash / Steven Lewis
UnSplash / Steven Lewis

In order for transcreation to work, you will need to provide your transcreator with more than just words. They need to know the emotion, feeling and creative concept that you are trying to convey in order to ensure what they create for you is as close to your ideal concept as possible.

The research first, transcreation second

In order to have effective transcreation of your marketing information, you need to conduct substantial global market research. Once the research has been tested and evaluated, the marketing team and transcreator get to work.

The cost is worth it

Transcreation is time-consuming—and also more budget-consuming­—than straight translation, but it can be worth it if your target audience responds and acts on your messages. Investing in transcreation can help you avoid any miscommunication or giving your brand a “bad name.” Convincing your global audiences that your message is worth their time and money takes solid transcreation.

5-Star writer Ilona K wrote and illustrated her first novel when she was eleven. Her latest creations include website user guides for the Federal Aviation Administration and blog articles for a language service provider. Ilona can handle both the serious and sublime. And she does them all with professionalism, wit and a song in her heart.

WriterAccess now offers translation in 21 languages. To find out more about translation services at WriterAccess, visit

Guest Author

By WriterAccess

Freelancer Ilona K

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