TRANSCREATION: What is it, what does it do and why global marketers need it?

Posted: 29 Fév 2024

As brands increasingly look to expand into overseas markets, transcreation has become an essential piece of the global marketer’s toolkit.

Although English is still regarded by many as the international language of B2B interactions, the rather quaint – some might say arrogant – notion of it being the universal language of the B2C relationship, has long gone.

And with the emerging economies of the Middle East, East Asia, and South America coming into play, western businesses have had to rise to the even greater challenge of adapting sales and marketing content for international markets that are much more different culturally to us, than our European neighbours. 

So, what exactly is transcreation and what does it do?

A blend of translation, localisation and creativity, transcreation could neatly be described as translation’s fun, free and wacky cousin, and international marketing’s very best friend!

It stems from the same intention as translation – to facilitate communication across borders. While translation takes words from one language and expresses them in another, transcreation goes beyond this – it takes into account the messaging, tone, style, and emotional impact too.

By delving deeper into consumers’ language, culture and behaviours, transcreation enables brands to effectively communicate across cultures, build emotional connections, maintain brand consistency, avoid misinterpretation, and gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

In essence, it’s an advanced form of localisation that combines translation skills and creative licence to adapt ideas. It’s much much more than words. It enables content to keep its original intent and wow factor when moving across international markets, while remaining super-tailored and appropriate for the audience.

So, if your snappy slogans and quirky quips are falling flat away from home, or carefully crafted straplines are getting lost in translation, investing in transcreation might be just what you need to up the ante with your overseas creative campaigns.

Naturally, as a more involved process, it carries a higher price tag than translation alone, but it’s well worth looking at the benefits of transcreation vs. translation on the road to expanding global reach.

Now let’s dive into how transcreation addresses the above to help global business to grow:

Overcoming the cultural challenge – no two cultures receive information and react to it in the same way. As part of the transcreation process, a deep understanding of the cultural context of both the source and target languages is needed, so content can be adapted to ensure it’s culturally relevant, and appropriate for the intended audience.

Making the right creative calls – getting to grips with an intended audience’s culture means campaigns can be adapted to be meaningful for target audiences, even if that means deviating from the original creative. Ideas can be reframed to still pack a punch and reflect a brand’s voice and style, but in a way that makes sense across different languages and cultures.

Navigating cultural nuances in marketing – every language and culture has its nuances; transcreation aims to evoke an original message’s emotions and reactions, by capturing its underlying sentiments and finding their equivalence from within the target audience’s vocabulary.

Advocating for brand voice and brand consistency – brand is everything, so it’s essential that any adapted content doesn’t lose sight, nor sound of that! Transcreation keeps brand voice, identity, and values intact across different languages and cultures, reinforcing brand consistency and integrity.

Addressing audience needs – ignoring audience preferences, and using the same material universally, won’t tip the scales in your favour. By tailoring messages and delivering them in a preferred format and channel, brands are more likely to maximise engagement and impact.

It’s clear that producing creative content that works worldwide is quite a challenge, no matter how good the original idea.

As previously touched on, the major stumbling blocks when it comes to communicating with global audiences and adapting content for international markets, are the cultural and linguistic nuances that crop up in just about every language and country.

When you’re trying to brand-build in new markets, understanding cultures, beliefs and behaviours is essential. And to build trust, content has to come across as if it has been created by a native; and must resonate on both a local, and global scale.

The transcreation process takes all this into account in its quest to make campaigns both relevant and compelling.

These are some of the key cultural and linguistic nuances that transcreation covers:

Country-specific idioms and expressions – we won’t ‘beat around the bush’ with this one… if you’re a native English speaker, you probably instantly know what this phrase means, but if you’re not, it will likely make no sense whatsoever!

And that’s because every language has its own set of idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms that may or may not have a direct equivalent elsewhere. 

Transcreators will first get to the crux of a phrase, and then find a way of creatively translating it into an idiom form that works across other target languages.

Wit, wordplay, and puns – got a brilliant joke, or corker of a catchphrase? As undeniable as it is that humour can work wonders for your sales sheet, it’s vital to tread carefully when going for a giggle across different geographies! What’s a sure-fire humour hit in one region, might completely miss the mark, or even offend, in another.

When faced with fun, transcreators must carefully consider cultural tastes and recreate jokes, or silly sayings, so that they suit the target audience and don’t go missing in action or cause a cultural commotion.

Taboos and potential touchy topics – this is an area that needs extra careful consideration. It’s all too easy to think that globalisation means anything goes, anywhere, but that’s far from the case. 

Religious, political, and social situations differ hugely from region to region and must be accounted for and respected across a marketing campaign’s written, visual, and moving image material.

Particular attention needs to be paid when western brands attempt to break into eastern and Middle Eastern markets – there are often distinct differences in social and religious norms and values that need to be understood.

History and customs – adding local colour to campaigns by referencing famous historical events, popular icons and well-trodden traditions is a proven way to draw in audiences. But of course, they’ve got to resonate in every target area; transcreators will do the research for relevance and adapt material so it works in each different market.

Global marketing success is all about creative communication – finding a gem of an idea to capture consumers’ imaginations and make a brand stand out from the crowd wherever it lands.

As we’ve discovered, a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut the mustard in international markets. 

From product names to straplines and slogans, no matter where, and to whom you’re trying to promote your brand, campaigns across all types of customer touchpoints will benefit from transcreation.

Check out these transcreation triumphs from three of the world’s biggest names:

McDonald’s turned down the heat in Spain

Who can forget McDonald’s catchy refrain “I’m lovin’ it,” from 2003. Still used today, it’s etched into our collective psyches. Even for those who aren’t fans of the fast-food giant’s fayre – that tune’s impossible to get out of your head!

However, assigning the heady emotion of love to a burger and fries was a little too much for Maccy D’s sensitive Spanish audience, who consider love to be a very powerful word.

As a result, rather than leaving it as a direct translation, transcreation stepped in with the more culturally attuned words, “Me encanta,“ meaning “I really like it,” which took the heat out of the Happy Meal and kept everyone, er… happy!

Disney had to be prepared to Let it Go

You’d need to have been living under a rock to have completely missed the 2013 release of the epic Disney movie, Frozen.

A huge hit in the UK and the US, in order to bring wider global audiences in from the cold, the animation’s key song, “Let it Go,” underwent the transcreation treatment to ensure its lyrics scanned and synchronised with the character’s movements in more than 42 different languages.

In Japan, “Let it Go” became, “As I am”, as the literal translation of the original title means to let go of something physical, rather than let go of a feeling. In Italy, it was changed to “All’alba sorgerò,” which is to “Get up at dawn,” to express the sentiment in a way that would connect with Italian viewers.

The film grossed an incredible 1.282 billion USD at the box office worldwide, so it’s safe to say the transcreation ROI was off the scale with this one!

And Nike just didn’t do it…

Yes, you read that right! On a mission to build its brand in China, Nike discovered that sometimes a slogan is just too iconic to be messed around with.

The now world-famous “Just Do It,” made little sense to Chinese consumers. But the sneaker supremos made the unusual decision to stick with the English version, rather than adapt it. Instead, they opted to support the tagline with transcreation and localisation across the area’s wider marketing campaign.

In 2023, Nike’s footwear revenue from Greater China sat at around 5.43 billion USD – so it would be fair to say they made the right transcreation choice and it delivered them a… ahem, runaway success.

Following these examples, here’s a breakdown of how the transcreation process unfolds, from beginning to end:

#1 Understanding source material this is a vital first step and includes text, visuals, and any associated brand guidelines. Transcreators familiarise themselves with the brand’s tone, voice, messaging, and cultural context to ensure alignment with the original content.

#2 Identifying target audience what are the attitudes, aspirations, and psychological drivers of the intended audience? Research around these aspects will investigate demographics, cultural nuances, beliefs, and preferences in order to create a framework for transcreating marketing material.

#3 Creative collaboration in transcreation – once the audience framework is established, collaboration between transcreative linguists and marketers can spark creativity and innovation in marketing campaigns. 

Linguists can provide fresh perspectives on language use and cultural references, inspiring marketers to think outside the box and develop unique, attention-grabbing campaigns.

#4 Accuracy in linguistic adaptation – transcreation never loses sight of the importance of accurate translation. Grammar, idioms, and linguistic nuances remain paramount.

#5 Review and quality checks ah, the all-important quality assurance stage! All transcreated content must undergo rigorous review and quality assurance processes to ensure accuracy, coherence, and effectiveness. This may involve feedback from linguistic experts, cultural consultants, and stakeholders to refine the content further.

#6 Testing and tweaking the challenges in transcreation echo those of most marketing endeavours and transcreated content is sometimes subject to consumer testing or piloted to gauge effectiveness. Feedback and performance metrics might result in some refinement and iteration for optimal impact.

#7 Ready to roll – now that it’s been created, tested, and refined, it’s ready to go across its various channels and platforms. This could be both in print and as digital assets across advertisements, websites, social media, or multimedia content.

And lastly, a brief recap of the business benefits of transcreation and the transcreation metrics available to measure its success:

Demonstrating a commitment to understanding and respecting local cultures can definitely differentiate brands from rivals who are using generic or poorly translated content and help them gain a competitive edge in international markets.

Tailored messages help businesses drive greater customer engagement, market penetration, and ultimately, achieve brand growth.

So, it’s clear that transcreation offers a powerful tool for effectively engaging with diverse global audiences, preserving brand identity, and penetrating new markets.

But when you invest in a transcreation strategy, and engage the services of a professional transcreation agency, you’re going to want to be able to properly check in on your business’s bottom line to make sure there’s a tangible benefit and a healthy ROI result from this extra step.

Various success factors are assessed using these key metrics and methods:

#1 Brand Consistency: measured through brand recognition surveys, consistency checks, and brand sentiment analysis.

#2 Cultural Relevance: evaluated through qualitative methods such as focus groups, interviews, and cultural appropriateness assessments.

#3 Engagement Metrics: click-through and conversion rates, website dwell time and social media interactions can all gauge the effectiveness of transcreated content in capturing audience attention and driving desired actions.

#4 Market Penetration: market share, customer acquisition, and sales performance can all be tracked to assess the impact of transcreation on expanding business reach across cultures.

#5 Customer Feedback: perceptions, preferences, and satisfaction rates from various audiences can be gathered through surveys, reviews, and direct communication channels.

#6 Quality Assessment: language accuracy, cultural authenticity, and creative effectiveness of content can be checked via linguistic reviews, cultural sensitivity assessments, and creative evaluations by language and cultural experts.

#7 Calculating ROI: costs incurred are compared with benefits achieved, such as increased revenue, market expansion, and brand equity. This helps determine the cost-effectiveness and overall impact of transcreation on business performance.

So, it’s effective, measurable, and the cornerstone of memorable marketing for global business. And if you’ve decided it’s time to make the transition from translation to transcreation, we’re here to help you!

At Comtec we understand the pressures of wanting to keep the integrity of creative work when it’s translated for global reach.

From recruiting Father Christmas to sign for deaf children, to translating books and coordinating creative campaigns across 40+ territories, we’re capable of meeting even the most unusual of creative translation needs.

Our linguists have extensive copywriting experience and are selected based on their skills for particular jobs to make sure you’re always working with talented creatives and marketeers – regardless of the language mix your campaign requires.

Working with both in-house marketing departments and agencies, we help get brands seen and heard across the globe. Find out more about our work, or get in touch.