insights | 22.12.2015

Guide to transcreation/marketing translation

Guide to transcreation

Getting started

Transcreation is the adaptation of brand content to fit another culture to engage with consumers who speak a different language. It may also be called ‘creative translation’ or ‘marketing translation’.

When it comes to transcreation, the best place to start is the beginning: when you first come to look at your business’ marketing strategy is when you should think about transcreation. Just as you will take into account the domestic consumer’s needs, desires and behaviours, so should you think about those of your international audience.

When putting together a creative brief it will help you in the long-run if you can dedicate some time to thinking about whether the strategies you plan to use will work per se in all the territories you are targeting, or whether transcreation might be relevant for you. If the latter is the case then it is great to be aware of it early on. This does not necessarily mean that you have to change your domestic marketing campaigns but rather that you can always keep the bigger picture in the corner of your mind and be reminded that all the stages you are covering will need to be replicated for the other markets. This should help greatly with the overall project plan.

The right approach

Once it has been decided that transcreation is the right route for you, a project manager will look at the assets you are producing as part of your marketing campaign and decide which will work best in the international markets you have chosen to target (it may also be possible to offer guidance on suitable markets for your product/service, if this is something you need help with).

It may be that certain audiences respond better to direct ad marketing, whilst others prefer more a more content-oriented approach via social media or blogs – consumer behaviour must be analysed at each stage. You can then focus your attention on the type of marketing materials that will work best in-country and devise strategies to approach the transformation of these into different language versions

Brand names

When studying the assets for transcreation, it is important to consider more than just the words because branding encompasses so much more than this. However, the words still come first as their transformation will shape your whole campaign. Something that should never be neglected is your brand name.

A great deal of thought will have gone into crafting this and the same amount of consideration should be given to whether this will work just as well in every country. You want to preserve your brand’s identity in your new market but the wrong name could ruin this completely if it does not give exactly the impression you were hoping for. C&C Group experienced just this when they introduced their whiskey liqueur ‘Irish Mist’ in Germany. Their sales plummeted and all because of the name – ‘mist’ is the German translation of ‘manure’.


Of equal importance is your slogan but puns and metaphors are notoriously difficult to translate. A cleverly-chosen piece of wordplay in one language could fall flat in another because such literary devices can rarely be translated literally.

Having said that, it is often the case that a well-known expression will have an equivalent in another language. ‘The early bird gets the worm’ could cause mass confusion if translated literally, especially if it has been adapted, e.g. ‘The early bird gets the [insert name of your product]’. A transcreation specialist would know that the German equivalent is ‘Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund’ (literally ‘The morning hour has gold in its mouth’) and adapt the slogan accordingly. Of course, in the above example, the imagery would also have to be adjusted to fit, perhaps replacing the bird with an image of the sun’s smiling face – more about this below.


Once you have decided on the message of your transcreated marketing materials, it’s time to look beyond the words. Even if your message is straightforward and did not require too much effort in terms of the actual words, there may still be work to be done in terms of what surrounds the words. If, for example, your banner ad features someone European-looking, you should consider changing the visual to better reflect the ethnicity of a local territory. By using imagery that reflects local ethnicity and culture consumers will be more likely to identify with your brand and marketing message.

The same goes for the use of colour: just because it represents one thing in one country, it can mean something entirely different elsewhere (white symbolises purity in much of the Western world, whilst it is the colour of mourning in China). This is of course important if you want to strike the right cord in your new market and entice your audience to engage with your business.

It is important to remember how imagery contributes to the overall message of your brand and what it says about your company. If there is a chance that it might provoke an unwanted reaction amongst people in a different culture, it must be reviewed.

An example of this is when, in the 1970s, Pampers launched their nappies in Japan. Both the ad and the packaging featured a stork, well-recognised in the Western world as the bird that delivers babies (or nappies in this case). However, Japanese parents were left bewildered and somewhat troubled by this—such big birds are frightening, particularly in relation to tiny, new-born babies. A native transcreation expert would have known that there is in fact a Japanese equivalent—floating peaches are said to bring babies upstream to the new parents.

By simply swapping the images, the company could have led their Japanese audience to believe that the ads were especially devised for them and thus achieved the overall aim of all translation – to make the finished text read as though it were originally written in that language, rather than a translation of something actually intended for readers of another language.

The translation process

Translators who are assigned to transcreation projects should ideally have some experience working in marketing or on other creative translation projects to ensure that they are comfortable moving away from the source text, which is not the norm in most other types of translations. They should familiarise themselves with the brand, making sure that they understand how it engages with its users and what drives them to purchase the goods it offers.

It may be that computer-assisted translation tools are not that useful in transcreation projects as translators should not be restricted to the words and phrases they have used before (which a translation memory would store and suggest in new files), but rather drive consistency in the branding by adhering to the same style used previously. It is often the case that the low word count does not justify the creation of a project in a CAT tool anyway.

It’s more important that the time is spent really getting to grips with the wording used and how the message behind is best conveyed in the target language. A proof-reader may review linguistic accuracy, as with regular translation projects, but also provide another perspective on whether or not the texts would function in the target markets, making amends as required.

On delivery, the transcreated text may be supplied with a commentary and back translation, should this be required by the client. If you choose a full service agency, there may be involvement from digital designers and developers with experience in transcreation/localisation so that your assets can actually be reproduced, ready for use.

Other areas to consider

Transcreation is a term mainly reserved for marketing materials, both printed and online, but you should not stop there in your efforts to build a strong international client base. Website localisation is key if you want to educate your customers about your product or services and give them a portal through which they can communicate with you. Even here, there may be elements of transcreation as you explore the best way to present your business.

Just having a great website with engaging content and a clear message is still not enough – you need to make sure you can be found by the customers who are seeking you out. This is where multilingual search engine optimisation comes in. Across the globe, not everyone uses Google to search for the things and so it’s important that keywords are selected with country-specific search engines in mind.

But it should never be the aim to write for SEO but rather to include enough keywords, particularly long-tailed, that you rank highly enough to get noticed. This may be something that needs adjusting over time and so your online assets should be dynamic and your relationship with your transcreation team solid.

Similarly, packaging translation is essential if your product is sold abroad— consumers need to know what they are buying, and all instructions, whether on pack or part of a user guide, should be accurately translated to allow for this. There is often regulatory information that must be adhered to when producing back of pack text, in accordance with in-country product laws, e.g. food legislation.

There is, however, room for flexibility with front of pack product titles, where elements of creative translation may be employed to grab the consumers’ attention as they scan the shelves. However, translated titles must not be misleading as the customer should still get an idea of what is inside.

Thinking ahead

Just like at home, your audience overseas evolves with the times and your campaigns need to adapt in order to stay relevant. As we have seen, cultural references can make or break your business and so keeping these up-to-date is crucial if you want to stay on top in all your target markets.

That means collateral should be regularly reviewed, preferably by the original transcreator, so as to ensure consistency of the brand message. You should aim to integrate transcreation into your workflow so that thought is always given to how your communication will translate for a wider audience, and reworking your ideas becomes seamless as you develop your brand identity in other territories.

Provided you choose a transcreation agency that understands your business’ needs and works with you to ensure your localised campaigns resonate with their audiences, international success could soon become a reality for you.

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