colourful umbrellas above a street

Transcreation: the power of marketing across cultures

Brands wanting to expand worldwide need to evaluate their marketing strategy to better understand and acquire customers in new territories. Their content needs to raise brand awareness, inform, educate, and attract a new audience, but most importantly connect storytelling and narrative to resonate with cultural sensitivities.

This is where transcreation comes in.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation derives from the words: translation and creation. It’s a complex form of translation that preserves the intention, emotion, tone and context of the source text. The goal of transcreation is to replicate the message without the target audience realising a translation ever occurred.

Transcreation begins with a source text and often kicks off with a creative brief. The writer producing the copy must have the knowledge of any cultural nuances of both languages as well as understand the “personality” of the source message. That’s why the best trancreations are done by writers living in the target language culture. Always working into their mother tongue.

Transcreation writers can also advise on the look & feel of the campaign, to assure that any creative aligns with the local audience; because the goal is not just to translate but to evoke emotion with cultural adaption across the entire campaign.

A simple way to differentiate between when transcreation is required, instead of just translation, is to use ATL and BTL. BTL is usually characterised by long copy, smaller budgets. ATL consists of short ads, slogans, product names etc.

Although not all ATL campaigns are necessarily very creative, it is still recommended that they are transcreated, as they have a wider reach and might be subject to possible cultural issues and language barriers.

Examples of content that should be transcreated include slogans and taglines, websites, marketing content, product names, adverts and apps.

Idioms play a huge part in transcreation too, as a literal translation rarely works to preserve their meaning. That’s because cultural references, humour and puns play a major role in making sure a message lands with the target audience.

Let’s look at some examples…

haribo logo

The Good – Haribo

The German jingle is fun and rhymes perfectly: ‘Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso’.
But when directly translated into English, it sounds uninspiring: ‘Haribo makes kids happy and adults too’.

So to keep the playful feel, it was transcreated into: ‘Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo’.

Puma shoes and UAE flag

The Bad – Puma and P&G

Puma created a range of trainers in colours of different flags. In United Arab Emirates however it was a misplaced homage as the feet and anything that touches the floor is associated with being unclean.

Procter & Gamble missed the mark when they launched Pampers nappies in Japan with stork delivering a baby. The product didn’t perform well so after some research, the company found out that customers were confused by the image of the stork with a baby. In Japan, babies are delivered on giant peaches not storks!

come alive with the pepsi generation

The Ugly – Pepsi

In the 60’ Pepsi launched a campaign using the slogan, ‘Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation!’, which was then translated into Chinese. However, the back translation ended up reading: ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’.

… enough said.

About the author: Agata Warzocha completed a Masters degree in Translation Studies at Leeds University, then moved to London to pursue a career in that industry, landing a role at an Advertising & Marketing Translations company. Agata then worked at the Ogilvy headquarters for their joint venture with Hogarth, and in that role was responsible for on-boarding and managing a high-profile enterprise client operating in more than 100 countries, delivering localisation campaigns across multiple media & languages.