What Transcreation Is and Why It’s No Gimmick

Last updated Jan 22, 2024
By Lucy Williams

There’s been a lot of talk recently about what transcreation is. How it differs from translation. Or even if it differs from translation. Some translators argue that the idea of transcreation is just a marketing gimmick. This article takes a good look at what transcreation is, and what it isn’t.

A range of colours is like what transcreation is
A good way to explain what transcreation is: part of a spectrum between copywriting and translation.

Gwen explained the basics of transcreation in her article, “What Is Transcreation? (Is It Different to Marketing Translation?)“. She explained how a transcreator is a mix of translator and copywriter.

The transcreator combines their translation and copywriting skills to produce marketing materials for the target market. They look at background information, language, cultural nuances and the visual aspects of the project. They can advise on cultural and marketing issues. Transcreators make sure the overall package provokes the reaction the client wants from the customer.

In her article, Gwen gave different examples of what transcreation is. She looked at transcreation as part of the spectrum between literal translation and copywriting. And discussed why it’s not just creative translation.

Transcreating slogans

Slogans are one example bloggers often use to explain what transcreation is. This is because localizing marketing slogans goes beyond simple translation.

The transcreator needs to do research to understand the background to the slogan and get into the head of the person who came up with it. They use that information to make a series of decisions. A straight translation of the same slogan wouldn’t involve doing this. Gwen illustrates this with an example in “Don’t Make This Rookie Error with Your Marketing Translator“.

The transcreator also has to consider where the text is going to be used. Your slogan won’t work if it makes a cultural faux pas in another market. I wrote more about that is my article “Transcreation Examples: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly“. You have to localize the slogan for the target market.

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Why localise slogans?

One of the transcreation examples Gwen gave was the Spanish kitchenware company, BRA. Direct translation of the site into English produces clunky slogans like “Cook with BRA”. The recipes section of the site was specific to the Spanish market. A transcreator could advise on different content and images that would work better in the target market. It’s more than just translating.

A similar example is the Portuguese lingerie brand, DIM. Many years ago, DIM had a campaign with the slogan “Eu sou DIM” (I am DIM) accompanied by models wearing the underwear and looking a bit vacant. Obviously, the campaign falls flat in English.

The whole campaign needs a different angle for other cultures. For a project like this, you need someone with the full skill set. Translation, marketing and copywriting.

 For more information about what transcreation is and who uses it, check out “Transcreation Services for Creative Industries: What, Who and How“.

A transcreator uses their language skills and their copywriting skills. What they produce respects the original but gets the response the customer wants in the target market. What about if the customer isn’t a copywriter? Is it transcreation if you’re working from notes and ideas in the source language?

Is #transcreation just a #marketing gimmick? Click To Tweet

Bilingual copywriting

Imagine all you have is notes from your client and you need to create professional copy in the target language. Or maybe you have notes to work from in English, but they’re written by a non-native. Who can deal with a project like this?

You need someone who can understand and untangle the cultural assumptions the non-native brings to the table. Or someone who can produce professional copy in English, with just notes in a foreign language to go on.

So, you need someone with language and copywriting skills. Language skills to understand what you mean and copywriting ability to craft that into professional marketing content in English. That’s where bilingual copywriting comes in.

The bilingual copywriter uses their linguistic talents as well as their writing abilities. They need to understand the source language and then use their writing skills to help the target text grow wings and fly. This is the other end of the spectrum.

It’s clear that there is much more to transcreation than just creative translation. It opens doors to new cultures. It combines the best of translation, marketing and copywriting. Transcreation presents exciting opportunities for translators with a creative flair and copywriting abilities. Translators who are also qualified copywriters make top-class transcreators.

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Written by Lucy Williams

Lucy Williams is a subtitler and a Spanish-English translator for fashion, tourism and luxury goods/services. She holds the CIOL Diploma in Translation and is a native English copywriter specialising in SEO-optimised long-form content. Connect with Lucy on LinkedIn.

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1 Comment
  1. Alex Marsh

    Great information on transcreation. Thanks for sharing!


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