letters forming the word transcreation

Neither translation nor localization: What exactly is transcreation?

German Language , Transcreation

Although transcreation is becoming an increasingly popular service, many struggle to understand what it actually entails. Is it like creative translation? What does it have to do with copywriting? And how is it any different from localization? We try to make sense of all these confusing terms.

1. “Trans… what was it again?”

It’s a phrase we hear often when we speak to colleagues, friends, and clients about our favorite service: transcreation. Responses range from “Did you mean to say transcription?” to “Does it have something to do with the word ‘transgender’?”. We’ve heard it all. And truth be told, we’re aware that “transcreation” isn’t all that easy to pronounce at first. Perhaps a more sophisticated neologism would have been better suited to describe this elaborate service.

But the fact that the word “transcreation” is starting to become commonplace throughout the world is also positive. After all, the term sums it up perfectly. That’s because a transcreation is a mix of two different services:

Transcreation = translation and creation

Transcreation combines elements of translation and creation (or copywriting). In other words, a text is translated into another language as though it had been copywritten for the customers in that specific country or region. And here copywriting means more than just writing: It involves crafting a message with a specific target group in mind, one that appeals to readers and persuades them to put their trust in a company or purchase a certain product.

In the following paragraphs, we look at how transcreation differs from standard translation.

2. Translation vs. transcreation

Both translation and transcreation involve a text being rendered from one language into another. Both require intricate knowledge of the source language and the target language. And it is absolutely essential that the right terminology be used. Yet translation and transcreation are two quite different skills.

a. Translation: as accurate as the original

Translation involves the conversion of a written text from one language into another. If you were to place both texts side by side, you would see that all the information is exactly the same in both language versions. 

Here is an example of a typical candidate for translation: 

A software provider needs to have a user guide for their latest application translated into another language. This requires absolute precision as otherwise misunderstandings and a rise in incoming customer support requests will be inevitable. To ensure users are able to follow the instructions quickly and independently, the translation must use expressions correctly and each piece of information must be conveyed with the utmost accuracy. 

Conclusion: A translation is required for all texts that primarily aim to inform a reader, e.g. manuals and help articles, as well as legal or academic documents.

b. Transcreation: as effective as the original

Transcreation also involves the rendering of a text from language A to language B. However, the translation is not linear but focused on conveying the underlying message and achieving the same effect. If you were to place both texts side by side, you would quickly see that the content of the original and the target text sometimes differs considerably.

How about an example, you say? Let’s look at the now-classic slogan used by German electronics store chain Saturn:

Geiz ist geil. 

Whether you like the slogan or not, it is universally recognized in the German-speaking world where it is instantly linked to electronic goods sold at bargain prices. But how should we go about translating it into, say, English?

Stinginess is awesome.

Linguistically, there is nothing to fault. And yet even the untrained eye can spot that the English version is not as effective as the German original. This is partly down to the alliteration of the German slogan, which gives it that extra flair.

But even if we were to go for a slogan that rhymed (“Stinginess is awesomeness”), the message still wouldn’t be as catchy and effective as in German. We need a completely different formulation that reflects what the company offers but aims to preserve the emotional impact of the original slogan.

Conclusion: Transcreation is the right solution for those texts whose main objective is not to inform but to convey a specific emotional message and encourage a specific action, e.g. advertising that aims to generate enthusiasm for a product or PR copy designed to present a company in the best possible light. 

Can’t we just call it “localization”?

Transcreation is also sometimes mistaken for localization. As both approaches focus on culturally adapting the target text to the target market, this can, of course, easily cause confusion. But each involves a different method.

Localization is the process of adapting content or a product to the respective market. This means not only ensuring accuracy, as is the case with translation, but a text that complies with the cultural conventions of the target country. Here are a few examples:

  • In the US, dates are usually written in the following format: “MM/DD/YYYY”. If a text needs to be localized for the German or even the UK market, dates are written “DD/MM/YYYY” instead.
  • If an online store is looking to market their apparel internationally, the brand must be aware that clothing sizes differ depending on the country. For instance, a size 38 in Germany would be a size 40 in France and a 42 in Italy. To ensure customers’ orders fit and the store isn’t inundated with avoidable returns, it is vital to know exactly how sizing works on your target market.
  • In the popular fantasy novel and television series Game of Thrones, names that sound foreign to international audiences, such as King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, are adapted for each country. In Germany, the capital goes by the name Königsmund, whereas in France it is Port-Réal.

Conclusion: As well as translation, localization takes into account cultural associations, such as currencies, units of measurement, and clothes sizes, along with certain expressions or references specific to a certain territory, to ensure that the text makes sense on the target market. User interface options for software, product details for online stores or video and film content are prime examples of text requiring localization.

Transcreation goes one step further than localization: Individual elements are still adapted, but a transcreated text may also depart completely from the source text if it is deemed necessary to effectively convey the underlying message. This process is suited to content focused on achieving a certain effect, such as copy used in branding and advertising.

Is transcreation similar to copywriting?

To a certain extent, yes. After all, each transcreation requires a hearty dose of conceptual thinking. But the difference is that copywriters design and write content from scratch with the respective target group in mind. The basis for this is always a brief in which the copywriter works together with the client to establish the objectives, the target audience, the desired tone of voice and the effect. Transcreation specialists also work with a brief when transcreating, but they have access to the original text, which they must stick to as closely as possible, presenting them with an additional challenge. 

Transcreation – a combined service for advertising and emotive copy

As we have seen, transcreation is multifaceted and encompasses several services. Translation, localization, and transcreation are all geared towards creating a premium-quality text that is easily comprehensible for the target market. Knowing which service is right depends on each specific project. If a text is designed to elicit a response from the reader, for instance, getting them to make a purchase or sign up to a service, then transcreation is clearly the right way to go. So if a text needs to have a specific impact, you need a mix of translation and copywriting: Time for a “Trans-Creation”.

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The business of branding: What does a pretzel have to do with transcreation?

German companies often believe they need an English name and slogan to sound truly international. Even we thought as much as we were building the brand for our joint business venture: a platform for German marketing and PR translations from English, Italian, and French. It didn’t take us long to realize one vital fact: Even if you think you’ve hit upon the perfect idea for your company name, your target market will (and should) always have the final say.

A coffee mug and a pretzel… how do they relate to transcreation?

Brand development is an exciting yet onerous task for many businesses. Initially, you focus solely on your key message and how you would like your brand to be perceived. The next step is putting these ideas into practice. Several rounds of trial and error follow until you eventually arrive at a solution that works not only for your business but for your target market.

That’s precisely what we did after making the decision to join forces and launch our own German transcreation business. Right from our first brainstorming session, we knew that we didn’t want our brand name to feature the words “translation” or “language”. This was partly driven by a desire to stand out from our competitors in the translation world, where business names often relate to language or play with linguistic terms. But, crucially, our preferred choices were already taken – and the relevant domain names too.

An international focus with a German twist

We thus set about finding a name that adequately reflected who we are and what we do. It needed to be international but still have a connection to Germany.

Our minds soon turned to a delicious German baked good that is instantly recognizable and known the world over: the pretzel. It features signature twists and loops, which could also serve as a metaphor for the transcreation process: After all, a transcreator sometimes has to take a meandering route to find the best word or phrase. It seemed to perfectly capture our brand. Before long, we were conjuring up ideas based on the doughy delicacy. To make our brand sound more international, we opted for the English equivalent instead of the German word (Brezel). After several rounds of elimination, the candidates on our final list included:

  • Pretzelize it
  • Pretzel Branding
  • Pretzel Logic

Our shortlist also featured a name that we instantly liked even though it had absolutely nothing to do with the word “pretzel”: “Saramatik”, our two names combined – Sarah and Magali – with a German-sounding twist at the end, like the popular Asterix comics, where the names of the Gaulish characters end in “ix” and the Goths in “ic” (or “ik” in the German versions).

Both of us were convinced by our pretzel idea, but we also wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t end up being inundated with cake orders or that the name didn’t conjure up any unwanted images in readers’ minds. More importantly, our name not only needed to work in English and German but in French and Italian too. We therefore decided to unleash our creations upon an international test group for some honest feedback.

Not so logical after all

It was an exciting race to see which name would come out on top. We kept tabs on how our test group responded to each suggestion and learned many interesting new facts along the way, e.g. that “Pretzel Logic” is the name of a Steely Dan song. Not only that, but the expression can also be used to describe someone’s “twisted reasoning”. As our service primarily focuses on precisely conveying a company’s branding in another language, “Pretzel Logic” suddenly seemed a less than ideal choice.

“Pretzelize it” and “Pretzel Branding” divided opinion. Like us, many approved of the names’ reference to a tasty treat. But no one was able to decipher an exact meaning. A French native speaker, for example, had no idea what “pretzel” even meant, as the French use the word bretzel. As for “Pretzelize”, well… the following Wiktionary definition stopped that idea dead in its tracks:

Pretzelize: To deform a simple linear idea into a superfluously complex explanation.

Our aim is to offer natural and fluent sounding adaptations of marketing texts; the last thing we would want to do is “pretzelize” our clients’ copy! 

“Saramatik”, however, went down well with all our target groups irrespective of their native language. The name also passed the following branding check with flying colors: 

  • The name and domain were available. ✔
  • It was short and concise enough to also work well as a logo. ✔
  • “Saramatik” was easy for everyone to pronounce, be they native speakers of English, French, or Italian. ✔
  • The name was unambiguous in all the languages spoken by our test group (although it would probably be wise to avoid the abbreviation “SM”). ✔

Our survey thus gave us a clear winner. Sorry, team pretzel – no spoils for you. Saramatik is the victor!

Take the time to get your branding right

Finding the right name for your business not only requires creativity but patience and a cool head. Blind enthusiasm can quickly turn into disappointment if your chosen name is already taken or just doesn’t make any sense in your target market. That is why we recommend investing plenty of time in research, brainstorming, and evaluation.

Ideally, you should ask a language professional to offer feedback on a short list of your favorite ideas. This is especially true when your brand name needs to be effective in more than one language. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped bring this project to life with their valuable feedback and many useful suggestions. We are very much looking forward to launching Saramatik and can’t wait to hear the many stories behind our clients’ company names. 

And should you require any assistance with German branding for your business, we will be happy to help you with tips, feedback, and copywriting skills.

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