Buying translations

Transcreation: more than just a creative translation

Translation vs. Transcreation

Conveying the content of promotional and marketing texts in another language is often called transcreation. The purpose is different from translating technical documentation, but how else does transcreation differ from translation? MEINRAD explains.

Translation and transcreation are similar processes, and both are methods of conveying content from a source language into a target language. But there are specific aspects of translation and transcreation that help them achieve their respective purposes.

What is a translation?

The aim of a translation is to convey written content from one language to another. When you order a translation, you’ll get your document back with a text in the target language that means the same as the source text. Depending on the type of text, a good translation will have some of the features of transcreation: consideration of the target audience, cultural aspects, and so on. All professional translators adapt their work in certain small ways so that the text sounds natural to a native speaker. But translations don’t usually involve creating new content, moving a long way away from the source text, or “playing around” with the language. Ultimately, the translator is aiming to produce a text which the target audience will understand, which sticks closely to the source text (i.e. with no information added or omitted), and which avoids jarring linguistic and cultural discrepancies.

What are translations suitable for?

Translations are suitable for all informative texts – that is, when the aim is to convey information to the reader in an objective, neutral manner. Examples of this are operating instructions, datasheets, contracts and staff announcements, where the focus is on clear, easy-to-understand communication. Translations generally aren’t about connecting with the reader on an emotional level or building up a relationship with them. But if you’re translating advertising slogans to sell products, for instance, that connection is crucial. And that’s where transcreation comes in.

What is transcreation?

You’ve probably already figured out that transcreation is a portmanteau of “translation” and “creation”. In essence, transcreation is a form of creative translation where, instead of translating the text literally into another language, the transcreator considers the style, intention, humour and tone of the source text and recreates the emotional message in the target language. You can almost think of it as adding aspects of creative copywriting to the translation process. The main aim is that the text should have the desired impact in the target language: transcreation aims to evoke the same emotions as the source text, though usually through different word choices and phrasing. That means the transcreator often has to move a long way away from the literal meaning of the source text, especially when proverbs, wordplay and cultural references are involved. In most cases they will make no sense at all in the target language and culture, so if translated literally the intended meaning wouldn’t be conveyed successfully. And that’s very bad news when it comes to advertising slogans. 

What is transcreation suitable for?

Transcreation is the best way to convey marketing and advertising content – i.e. all texts produced to help sell products and/or encourage people to buy or do something – in other languages. The message needs to reach both hearts and minds of (potential) consumers, so it’s important that specific cultural traditions, customs and practices are taken into account. Only then will the new message have the same impact as the original. Transcreation is especially recommended for the following situations, where a conventional word-for-word translation simply won’t cut the mustard:

  • Brand names and product names
  • Advertising slogans
  • Promotional brochures and flyers
  • Posters

It’s all too easy to put your proverbial foot in it by not considering the cultural context. One big-name company who found this out the hard way was Mitsubishi, who launched their “Pajero” SUV in Spain without realizing that it has a very rude colloquial meaning in Spanish. They quickly renamed it the “Montero”, but the damage was done, and it has gone down as one of the worst marketing flops of all time. 

At a glance: translation vs. transcreation

  Translation Transcreation
Content Content is conveyed in the target language Content is adapted to the target language and audience
Language The translation reflects the content of the source text to convey the same information Content is tailored to the target audience to evoke the same response as the source text
Typs of text

Informative texts (e.g. operating instructions, datasheets, contracts, etc.)

Emotional texts such as sales and marketing documents
Time required Relatively quickly, depending on the number of words and the quality of the source text As a creative process, transcreation takes longer than the transfer of information  

Linguistic competence, creativity and cultural knowledge required

Marketing departments spend a lot of time thinking about advertising slogans – and it should be no different when these slogans are translated in order to avoid embarrassing blunders that damage their PR and hit them financially. Transcreation is the answer. It goes beyond the literal meaning of the words and focuses on optimizing the message so that a product or service hits the sweet spot with the target audience. So transcreators need more than just linguistic competence, translation expertise and creativity: they also need in-depth knowledge of the cultural specifics of the target region.


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