Why transcreation, not translation, could be what your business needs for international success
When you need to reach customers who speak a different language, you’ll immediately think of translation. And if you’re a translation customer, you probably don’t give much thought to the actual process. And why would you? Life is short. You’ve got your job, your translator has theirs. You’ve paid an expert to do a job, and hey presto, the translation is in your inbox, ready for use.
But what if I told you there was another process that could propel your success abroad much faster than a simple translation?
Well there is: transcreation.
What is transcreation?
Unfortunately, transcreation is one of those sticky terms that’s hard to pin down and define. It can mean different things to different people. Not least because different translators define it differently.
Some define it as a translation that sounds natural and not like a translation. One that has been written with the new target audience in mind.
But to me, that’s just a good translation. A translation that’s fit for purpose.
Others define transcreation as a process that straddles translation and copywriting. You need the translation skills to decode the original text. And you need copywriting skills to create words that are fresh and appealing for the new audience. But inspired by the original text.
This is how I define transcreation. You certainly need copywriting skills to transcreate successfully.
That’s because transcreation is used more often than not for advertising and marketing purposes.
So how can transcreation be your superpower tool? I thought I’d pop together some examples of how it can work.
A transcreated website = more compelling and persuasive
I recently transcreated a website for an Italian company that wanted the English version of their website to read as though it was written by a native English speaker. It needed to sound natural and professional to new potential customers.
So far, so logical.
After reading the original Italian website, I realised that some pages would need to be transcreated to have the desired effect on an English-speaking audience. Other pages were a good fit for the English market and could be simply translated in a way that was idiomatic and natural.
The biggest change was the About page. Italian websites tend to list a company’s illustrious history and many achievements.
In the English market, at least, this is the most important page on your website. It’s the page that customers go to, to understand more about you, and hopefully connect with your brand. For this very reason, they need to be written with the customer at the centre – not the company itself as you might expect.
The About page is where you’re at your most convincing. I created a transcreation that was compelling and persuasive and more in keeping with what English speakers would expect. I even removed elements that I felt were redundant for the English-speaking market and distracted from the core message.
A transcreated TV ad = more in touch with the target culture
Another recent transcreation I carried out was a TV ad for an Italian food brand.
The main focus of the ad was good Italian food that anyone can enjoy, whatever their lifestyle. It needed a slightly different focus in English, where Italian food is highly appreciated, but has slightly different connotations. It’s not the food that mamma makes, it is an aspiration for a healthy, wholesome lifestyle.
But cultural aspects were not the only considerations. Rhythm, rhyme and assonance were particularly important in this spoken word ad. With a simple, even idiomatic and natural-sounding, translation, all this would have been lost, along with the audience.
A transcreated tagline = something that makes sense rather than confuses
Perhaps the most famous examples of transcreation are taglines. A few simple words that work so well in one language can become confusing and even terrifying when simply translated into a new language.
The internet abounds in examples of huge corporations that have got this wrong. KFC’s Finger Lickin’ Good famously became ‘Eat Your Fingers Off’ in Chinese. (Seriously? I imagine a bunch of American execs sitting around with a Chinese – English dictionary).
I’m not going to repeat the many examples here, many others have gone before me.
But it’s the perfect example of why you’re best off paying a transcreator or copywriter to spend a few hours puzzling over your slogan, after versing themselves in your brand values. Paying someone to quickly translate it in five minutes is just a bad idea.
Transcreation can crop up anywhere
As my colleague, transcreation expert Claudia Benetello, recently wrote, although FMCG examples immediately spring to mind, transcreation can also be used to great effect in B2B campaigns.
But sometimes you need to call on transcreation skills in a ‘normal’ translation. If an element of a straight translation just doesn’t make sense in the target culture, then it’s time to call on transcreation skills.
An example of this, which isn’t strictly transcreation, but shows how we have to adapt to different cultures is names. English readers usually take it for granted that Charles and Charlie are the same person. But would you know that Franscesco and Ciccio could be one and the same? When this crops up in blogposts and articles, we have to make sure that readers don’t get confused, and I usually keep the name consistent throughout.
A further example is article headlines and product names. An article I once translated had a recipe called ‘tomato surprise’. Luckily my instincts got the better of me. After a quick Google, I discovered that a tomato surprise was not something you want to talk about in your average, non-X-rated magazine. (Just believe me – you don’t want to Google it). I swiftly came up with a new, more suitable title (but perhaps less creative) that wouldn’t have English-speakers running for the hills.
Do you have any questions about translation or transcreation? Don’t hesitate to get in touch for a chat.