Transcreation: what’s it all about?

In recent times, you may have seen the word ‘transcreation’ bandied around by marketing and translation companies alike. There is no dictionary definition of the word – yet. So what exactly is this new-fangled phenomenon? And why should you be bothered anyway? 

It is common knowledge that an increasingly globalized market has opened up new avenues for international companies. But targeting different markets brings with it new challenges. Just how do you reach out to that market, interact with it and form a relationship that will incite increased consumer interest? How does your company, whether big or small, really tap into the full potential of foreign markets?

Bring in transcreation. Unlike more traditional forms of text translation, transcreation is not about being faithful to the words as they are written on the page, but to the essence of their meaning. As a form of creative adaptation of all aspects of copy from words, images and meaning to the actual layout of the text, transcreation adapts the original, or, in some cases, does away with it entirely whilst maintaining the essence of what the company wishes to achieve. Transcreation is all about creating the desired persuasive effect on the target audience. It is a form of message interpretation if you like, where the ideas behind the message are taken in, chewed over, and thrown out in a totally different form for a new target audience.

Why is it becoming more popular?

Transcreation does not just benefit companies looking to explore new markets. It is also becoming more and more of a reality for those companies already operating within a country. Instead of global marketing strategies with the same campaign translated into several languages, companies are increasingly reaping the benefits of adapting marketing, sales and advertising copy in the target language to suit the target audience. More and more companies, both well-known and those that are less so, are exploring the opportunities that transcreation opens up for them in terms of creating desired relationships with the target audience.

In this vein of thought, there are a few now infamous marketing disasters that would have benefited from this approach, where the literal translation of advertisements resulted in rather unfortunate and undesired effects in the target language. Take the Electrolux campaign in the US which claimed that “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux!” or the KFC tagline “Finger Lickin’ Good” which literally invited consumers in China to “Eat Your Fingers Off”. Although humorous, such errors can have huge and detrimental consequences for a company, not to mention the financial losses of a fruitless ad campaign. Such errors could have easily been avoided had they employed a professional linguist with an understanding not just of the language, but of the target culture. But the examples above would have perhaps benefited from a different strategy entirely; an ad campaign that may be a huge success in one culture might be a total flop in another, even if language blunders are avoided. What would have proved invaluable in such cases would have been a native linguist with an understanding of marketing and advertising.

Transcreation requires skills that go beyond linguistic capabilities in the target language. As a form of translation characterised by its target audience orientation, the translator, or ‘transcreator’, entrusted with such a role becomes part of the marketing process, essentially assuming the role of an in-language copywriter. Transcreation specialists will therefore often have a background in marketing or advertising, and, even more essentially, will understand both the target audience and the aims and objectives of the company, the responses they desire from consumers, and the image the company wishes to portray.

When it comes to translating marketing and advertising material, the creative element gains much greater significance due to the translated-text’s aim. A marketing or advertising campaign aims to persuade, alter opinions, promote a certain viewpoint and make the consumer buy into that view point; it wants to appeal to the reader in some way or other, to persuade the reader to act in a certain way. This type of text should produce the same desired response in the target reader as it does in the reader of the original. A successful ‘translation’ should therefore adapt to the target audience with the aim of creating some sort of equivalent effect amongst target language readers. Simple ‘translation’ is therefore just not possible. And this is where the difficulty comes in.

A phrase, an image, an idea that works in one language often won’t have the same impact in another. Why not, then, adapt the essence of the idea, make it appropriate and appealing to a local market? Why not reap the benefits of targeting local markets and making them feel like they truly understand your brand? Or rather, like you truly understand them.

But is it really going to catch on?

Well, the simple answer: it already is. Transcreation is indeed a more time-consuming operation due to the creative process. And yes, it may well be a little more costly than simply translating a text. But the end result is an adapted text that really taps into the desired market, a text that is as effective and persuasive as the original. Transcreation is a means of extending the creative investment that you have made in the original text, ensuring that localized versions are both culturally sensitive and relevant to your target audience.

Go on, give it a whirl… you never know where it may take you and your business.  

Mobile internet and apps in emerging markets

A recent article about the mobile internet era in emerging markets highlighted that, as smartphones are much cheaper to buy then computers are, users in emerging markets generally purchase a cellphone much earlier than they do a computer.

Apps and mobile software are consequently gaining significance; not only are they lucrative business in developed countries, but they are providing connectivity and access to information in emerging markets, making the potential to tap into such markets an enticing prospect.

There is a common trend in emerging markets: the middle classes are growing, and with this growth, commodities such as cellphones and smartphones are becoming less and less of a luxury item. With the rise of the middle class, apps and mobile software bring connectivity to the lives of millions of new users every year. It may be worth taking a minute to stop and think about the implications of this for a second; how could this trend affect your business?

Mobile software and applications may well be your way into emerging markets. BRIC countries (an economics term to define the newly advanced economic status of Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other emerging markets, such as Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, are set to be a driving force behind app creation. This translates as opportunity.

Like with any online content, it is important that potential new customers are able to connect with your product or brand in their own language. It is a common misconception, particularly of English-speaking countries and the English-speaking business world, that most people have a basic level of English-language understanding, and that it is therefore sufficient to present the content of your website, mobile software and apps either in English alone, or in the native language of your home country plus in English as the ‘foreign language’ option. Yet, this is simply not the case if you wish to explore the full potential of your internet-based audience.

The internet opens your business up to a global audience, yet this opportunity is often ignored by businesses.  While English is, in fact, the most widely used online language, it only captures 26.8% of total internet users. This fact speaks volumes about the importance of online content translation, both for computer-based and cellphone-based internet users alike.

The ability to obtain information in their own language will strongly influence a consumer’s choice of purchasing decision, and provides food for thought not only for those looking to make their way in emerging markets, but for any business looking to operate outside of their home country. 

Technology update: Apps that facilitate real-time cross-language conversations

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to speak a couple of foreign languages in addition to our own native tongue. Think how beneficial this could be when it comes to interacting with your clients, building new or improving existing relations... Speaking a foreign language gives access; it is a tool for success in a highly competitive and tightly interconnected world. The reality is, however, that we don’t live in this ‘ideal’ world. It is reported, for example, that only 18% of Americans can speak a foreign language. This rate rises to 38% in the UK, and to 53% for Europe as a whole.

A shrinking world

Bearing such figures in mind, in a shrinking world that demands greater access to information and the need for global communication, there is an increasing need for translated material and cross-language communication. With this need, competition amongst language technology software developers to tap into what we may term the ‘translation-on-the-go’ market is also growing.


For example, a Japanese company, NTT DOCOMO (Japan’s leading mobile network), recently unveiled its real-time translation app which allows phone-to-phone translation. What does this mean? Well, this app combines machine translation technology (in a similar way to how Google Translate works) with real-time voice recognition software. This allows two people speaking different languages to communicate over the telephone (both cell phone and landline) initially between Japanese and a foreign language. This is an interesting concept and may well alter traditional perceptions of how two people who do not share a common language communicate. (Note that in describing the capabilities of this app, I use the carefully selected word ‘translate’ and not ‘interpret’. Such applications do not ‘interpret’ the message, they simply relay it, word-for-word, with as much accuracy as their statistical based translation technology allows.)

The potential of this app is very interesting indeed, and while it is certainly no replacement for speaking a foreign language, you never know… it may just bridge that gap when necessary. The result is an oral translation of the sentence that was spoken into the telephone enabled with the app*. In theory, then, this app facilitates a conversation between two people who may otherwise be unable to connect.

So how good are these apps and do I need it?

Such machine translation technology has varying degrees of success, as we all know having sampled the likes of Google Translate which is very rarely 100% accurate and always needs you, the user, to ‘interpret’ the translation to some extent. Such technologies are, however, useful but they remain an aid to translation, not a means for translation. Just imagine the consequences if you were to use Google Translate for that all important press-release, or that recently completed document or letter due to be sent to your client; this same principle remains true of the real-time oral translation software offered by NTT DOMOCO, soon to be followed by other developers I am sure.

Language is a complex thing and depends on context, tone, situation, relationships etc. Will a machine that uses statistics to produce an oral translation ever really be able to give an accurate translation? Probably not. But who’s to say that this technology won’t prove useful in certain situations. And this is the key. Such technology has its place, but its place should not be overestimated.  So my advice is to err on the side of caution, as we have all become accustomed to doing with Google Translate. This form of live translation by a machine will almost certainly always require a degree of ‘interpretation’ on the part of the user. As with any form of machine translation technology, such concepts remain limited and will very rarely be 100% accurate for anything but the simplest of sentences. Only the real deal, a true translator or interpreter, will ever really understand, interpret and convey the original meaning of a text or conversation as fully and as accurately as possible.


* If you want to sample how this technology works, Google Translate also incorporates this functionality into their smartphone and tablet app (limited to face-to-face conversations, unlike NTT DOMOCO’s app which facilitates phone-to-phone conversations), so why not download it here and give it a go for yourself?