Translation vs. Transcreation: What Do You Need?

Remember the National Dairy Association’s campaign “Got Milk?” What if they had wanted this translated into Spanish to reach a primarily Spanish-speaking market? That would result in a literal translation of “Are You Lactating?” It doesn’t have quite the same meaning, does it?

The big multinational brands have been doing translation well for decades. The Coca-Colas, Volkswagens and Unilevers of the world spend millions every year to ensure that their corporate brand identity is properly conveyed in diverse markets around the globe. Brand plays a major role in creating that all-important emotional connection between consumers a company and its products. These brands have the budget and the capacity to outsource this process called transcreation.

Lost in translation…

Languages are subtle and nuanced. Translations that are too literal will lead to embarrassing bloopers as mentioned at the beginning. Above and beyond the semantic meaning, the translator also has to capture brand-building language qualities such as style and tone. These are things that a non-professional translator typically will not know. Can you imagine the added cost of having to replicate translations multiple times to get it right? Or worse, delivering translated text that is culturally irrelevant.

Going beyond translation – transcreation

What is transcreation? The process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context.

The aim of a transcreated message is to successfully evoke the same emotions and contextual relevance in the new language as the original or source language. This includes words, graphics, video, audio, and cultural nuances. While translators seek to reproduce the wording and intent of a message, transcreators are copywriter linguists who seek to evoke the intended emotional response by re-creating the message in a way that resonates strongly with a particular market.

In order to achieve this goal, transcreators need to receive not only the source text, but the complete creative brief that underlies the campaign. The output of the transcreative copywriting effort will be brand new messaging that is carefully targeted to the local market.

Here’s an example of transcreation from US to UK English. Way back in the days when fax machines were becoming affordable, a US manufacturer ran a campaign using the tagline “Don’t go postal” over an image of a crazed office worker holding a stack of urgent letters. The implication was clear: faxing the letters would be more reliable and less stressful than sending them by snail mail. It was a dark-humor play on the American slang expression “Go postal”, which means to lash out violently and at random. It was taken from incidents in the 1990’s of workplace violence involving US postal system workers. The transcreators in the UK did not feel that the tagline would go over well locally so they came up with a UK alternative: “Fax. Relax.” Totally different words, same message.

Transcreation is generally more expensive than translation, for good reason. It is taking something a company should be fiercely protective of, their brand, and creating a version that speaks to local markets. Ask yourself, can you afford to have your message and your brand equity undermined by ineffective marketing and sales collateral?