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Transcreation: what matters most is intent

Updated: Jan 22

Every day, we are bombarded by hundreds of messages from dozens of companies all vying for our attention. These companies rely on a wide variety of advertising materials, including texts, images and audio content, to trigger a specific response in consumers (such as purchasing a product or service) or simply to prominently display their brands so that they remain in the forefront of our minds.

Behind these companies’ cleverly crafted outreach strategies is an army of communications specialists, advertising professionals and design experts tasked with producing highly creative and engaging content. This complex creative process produces advertising materials designed to target a wide range of audiences with distinct demographic features, including different genders, tastes, interests, and—of major import—different languages. This is where language professionals play a crucial role by creating the vehicle used to convey a message to a specific group that distinguishes itself by its language. This transformational process is aptly called transcreation.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation is the process of transposing an emotionally charged message (which can be promotional or literary in nature) from a source language to a target language. It is a language service but, more importantly, a creative service that often involves other fields such as copywriting and graphic design.

Transcreation focuses in part on the linguistic aspect of the process, but chiefly aims to preserve the intent of the original message and the response it seeks to elicit in a specific target audience. Above all else, the transcreation process strives to preserve the “spirit” or essence of a message, to convey the same emotions, and to trigger the same responses or feelings as the original message within the target audience in its corresponding target language. As such, the process must take into account the underlying purpose of the concept, content, and tone of a message as well as the context in which it was created—and in which it will ultimately be received. Emotional resonance is not a trivial thing: from one culture to another, emotionally charged content is often perceived and valued differently. For example, in Latin cultures, close family ties and brotherhood are highly valued, whereas in Asian cultures, what is most valued is honesty and respect. As such, what resonates with one culture may fall flat with the next.

That is where transcreation comes into play, as its main objective is to make the target audience feel like the content was originally written in its own language and to trigger in it the same response as in the source language audience.

When should transcreation services be used?

Transcreation is used to transform emotionally charged content in order to elicit a specific reaction in a given audience. The format in which this content is conveyed varies and can include slogans, corporate videos, sales materials, marketing and outreach campaigns on topics of interest to a given community, or even literary media such as poetry.

Transcreation is closely related to international marketing and is an absolute must when a brand wishes to reach multilingual groups in a foreign market and to leverage the target culture’s values and preferred means of expression in order to create a brand image that feels “home grown,” which is a vital part of the localization process.

In a nutshell, translation deals mostly with processing informative and didactic texts, while transcreation focuses more on advertising, marketing and communication content whose successful transformation requires cunning and creativity.

Although transcreation is a very useful service, in some cases it is preferable to keep the content in its original language, as transposing it may result in the dilution of its essence, no matter how skillfully the work is done. This is notably the case for Nike’s “Just do it” slogan, whose strength lies partly in the language in which it was created: the slogan has an incredibly high rate of recall and truly strikes a chord with its target audience. However, attempts to adapt it to suit non-English speaking markets proved unsuccessful, and the company’s branding experts ultimately decided to keep it in its original language.

What are the essential qualities of a good transcreation service provider?

Language service providers specialized in transcreation must have a very specific skill set, which includes an excellent command of both the source and target language. They must be familiar with the idioms, slang and colloquial expressions of the culture in which the message is initially produced and in which it will ultimately be delivered.

Acting as both a translator and a copywriter, these wordsmiths must be able to read “between the lines” to fully grasp all of the message’s subtleties. They should be sensitive to connotations and dual meanings, be mindful of taboos and prohibited expressions, and be skillful at using puns, rhythm, rhymes, and alliteration. In fact, nothing should escape them!

Moreover, they must be very resourceful and creative in order to elicit specific emotional responses through words, and have a professional toolkit that is not only multilingual, but multicultural as well. They must also have excellent research skills and basic knowledge of advertising and communication strategies and tools in order to efficiently collaborate with creative teams.

Given that the creative and linguistic process of content production and its transcreation is incredibly complex, it is important to establish a collaborative working relationship between the client’s creative team and the language service provider in order to openly share ideas, concepts, and other information that can be useful in getting to know the brand and grasping its essence.

At the start of a project, it is important to provide a brief or document containing all strategic project information, including your brand’s values and personality, the communication objectives of your campaign, your guidelines for carrying out the project and what you ultimately expect from the consumer or hope to achieve. In addition, it is very important for the language service provider to know where the content will be published (radio, television, social media, etc.), as the way of “speaking” to the public in each medium is different and requires specific communication strategies. A skilled language service provider will be able to leverage this information in order to achieve a successful transcreation process.

In summary, transcreation, as the name implies, is a skillful blending of translation and creation strategies. It is one of the most demanding and impactful language services and requires that clients play an active role in the process. When properly executed, transcreation empowers your brand to conquer different markets and enables you not only to adequately convey your message in multiple languages, but also and above all to preserve its essence in spite of its outward transformation.

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