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Transcreation: How Is It Different From Translation and Localisation?

Transcreation: How Is It Different From Translation and Localisation?

Transcreation is a blend between “translation” and “creation”. By now, you can probably guess what it’s all about. Let’s start, however, by defining translation: it is an act through which the content of a text is transferred from the source language into the target language (Foster, 1958). For example: if you have a text in English and you want it in Spanish, English would be the source language and Spanish would be the target language. So far, so good.

Transcreation (or creative translation of marketing collateral) goes beyond simple translation by focusing on the intended impact of your message. Keep reading to explore with us the similarities and differences between transcreation and other languages services.

Translation (in General)

This is the concept you are all probably already familiar with. Translation means re-expressing meaning. Usually word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase, translators transfer the meaning of a source-language text in an equivalent target-language text. For example, the phrase “I love you” translates into German as “Ich liebe dich”. Into French, it translates as “Je t’aime”.

Are Transcreation and Localisation the Same?

Nope, but they do have a few things in common. How so? Well, they both go beyond plain translation to take cultural nuances into account. As we have previously explained in this article, localisation involves the translation of the source content in such a way that it acknowledges the target culture and its preferences.

In other words, localisation adapts the content for local consumption. The purpose behind it? To make the content resonate with the target audience at an emotional level. As such, localisation might involve changing colours, cultural references, names of people, names of places, etc.

The goal of transcreation, on the other hand, is not just tweaking cultural references to give the translated text a local feel but involves creating a new text from scratch that will maintain the original intent, style, and tone of the original. That’s why transcreation is common for marketing collateral such as slogans or ads.

Eliciting the same reaction and emotional response in each target market as the one consumers experience in the source market is not something that translation or localisation on their own would be able to achieve. Because of its attempt at provoking a particular emotional response in the public, transcreation is closely linked to ‘emotional marketing‘.

Good Examples of Transcreation and Localisation

We loved the example that Today Translations chose for successful transcreation, the Asterix comics. And the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign is the example we’ve chosen to illustrate localisation for you to perceive the difference between the two processes. See below:

Transcreation: The Asterix Comics.

There is no better place to end a discussion of creative translation than with the English translations of the Asterix comics. Many might quibble and say that this is translation pure and simple. When Anthea Bell was translating all the puns and nuances within those strips, she certainly wasn’t thinking “I am transcreating”. The difference is academic, but few other examples quite capture the joyous spirit of creative translations that improve upon the originals.

The names of all the characters are puns, many of which can’t be translated – but they can be recreated. The English versions that Bell created were often cleverer than the French names. For instance, the tone-deaf village bard was originally Assurancetourix, a play on ‘assurance tous risques’ – ‘full cover insurance’. In the English, he became Cacofonix, a wordplay on ‘cacophony’. The insalubrious fishmonger was Ordralfabétix, playing on ‘ordre alphabétique’. He became Unhygienix. The French originals are funny because they are absurd. The English names actually reflect traits of the characters, and make the cast that much more vivid.

Other name translations hit the nail on the head in most perfect way imaginable. The cantankerous pet dog of the lead character Obelix was called Idéfix, a play on the French phrase ‘une idée fixe’ meaning a stubborn obsession. He became Dogmatix – which is a delightful translation, since Idéfix is indeed a dog, and he is also dogmatic.

Today Translations

Localisation: ‘Share a Coke’

Back in 2013 and 2014, Coca Cola launched its “Share a Coke” campaign. This campaign captivated the public. Instead of the Coca Cola logo on the label of the bottles, there was a simple phrase: “Share a Coke with John”. But it wasn’t just for Johns, it was for Jacks, Sarahs, Bobbys. Everyone. On each coke label, there was a different name. This connected with people directly. A good example of their localisation is what they did in Ireland; adding Irish names such as Aoife and Oisín. A better example of localisation is what they did with their campaign in China.

In China, it is not respectful to address a person by their first name. Usually, you would address a Chinese person by his/her surname followed by honorific titles. But this whole campaign was about direct and personal connection. How do you connect with someone directly if you can’t use their first name? Coke had an answer. Instead of names, they used terms such as “close friend,” and “classmate”. This was a great way to weave through cultural boundaries while also staying true to a marketing campaign.


What is Marketing Translation, Then?

This is an umbrella term that refers to the translation, localisation, AND transcreation of marketing collateral and copy. Copy is the output of copywriters who produce material which encourages consumers to buy goods or services. Therefore, marketing translation includes translating, localising, and transcreating marketing texts, advertising, packaging and brochures, catalogues, product descriptions, websites and web content, etc.

How to Transcreate

Now that you understand transcreation, you might be wondering exactly how to transcreate or what steps to follow. We have put together a few tips for you, so you can understand how transcreators work and even approach your first transcreation task with confidence.

Step 1: Chew on the Source Text

Before starting the transcreation work per se, you need to read the source text a thousand times. Then, make sure you understand the message completely and take mental notes of its tone and style. Why is all this important when learning how to transcreate? Well, you will need to produce the same effect on the target audience as the source text produced on the original audience. Moreover, you don’t want to leave any concepts out of the transcreated copy.

Step 2: Take Notes

Now, it’s time to write down the main concepts you’ve just read. If you are more of a visual person, you could create a few diagrams and charts. Even drawings! Anything that will help you remember the key ideas.

The key is approaching the source paragraph by paragraph. Read the first paragraph in the source language a few times, jot down the main concepts or message, and repeat with every paragraph thereafter.

Step 3: Hide the Source Text

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. You don’t need the source text anymore. Now that you’ve read it a hundred times and understood the main concepts and message, it’s time to work only with your notes. It’s now time to let your creativity do its job! Hiding the source text will help you avoid working sentence by sentence (if you do that, you will be translating, not transcreating, however much you distance yourself from the source text).

Now, start writing from scratch in the target language using the list of concepts you just put together. Try to picture yourself as the original author who’s come up with those ideas and address the ideal reader. The result is a text that reads naturally (because you will have written it from scratch in your native language) and that conveys the same message as the original while appealing to the reader’s culture, emotions, and interests. Which is what transcreation is all about!

While transcreating, you want to adapt names, metaphors, sayings, jokes, and cultural references. You want the target readers to feel they are reading an original text written in their language (i.e., not a translation).

Some More Advice

  • Read a lot
  • Write a lot
  • Familiarise yourself with copywriting techniques
  • Look for reference material in the target language; ideally, texts that are similar to what you are working with. It will help you get a better idea things that works best in the target culture.

Blind Transcreation

Put simply, blind transcreation is transcreation with no source text. To learn more about how this middle ground between copywriting and creative translation works, read our blog post on it!


We hope this article has helped you clear your questions! Otherwise, please do let us know in the comments. Happy translating!

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