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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Alarm clock and text "how long does transcreation take?"

How long does transcreation take?

German Language , Slogan , Transcreation

We’re often asked how quickly we can deliver. Generally, transcreating is one of – if not the – final step(s) in a long process that starts with the development of a brand and ends with the rollout of an international marketing strategy. Of course, project management would be a whole lot easier if the time required for transcreation could be neatly summarized in a simple formula, like so: 

Still with me? Jokes aside, working out the number of hours needed is far from straightforward. Clients are often surprised by how long it takes to transcreate a document. They wonder why a text that so many brilliant minds have labored over for countless hours can’t simply be translated into another language. Surely it’s not that hard?!

Exhibit A: the cult slogan

But what actually happens when a text is transcreated? Let’s take a well-known advertising slogan as an example: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!” At first glance, it seems unbelievably simple. But that is precisely what makes a slogan so unique: It manages to communicate the core message of a brand in just a few words. A slogan should be catchy, convey an emotion, and stick in the customer’s mind.
But what appears effortless is in fact the result of countless hours of brainstorming and seemingly never-ending discussions. To put it plainly: That one short sentence required a whole lot of work. If you were to literally translate the Haribo slogan into French, you would get the following: Les enfants et les adultes l’adorent, le joyeux monde d’Haribo. Although an accurate translation, it’s nowhere near as memorable. And you don’t have to be a French native speaker to see it: The rhyme is nowhere to be seen and the catchy melody of the original has been lost.

The transcreation process: back to the drawing board!

What we need is an alternative. To ensure the slogan (and thus the product) is also successful in the French-speaking world, a French version is required that customers will remember as soon as they hear it. But the French slogan must also stay true to the original. So, we need to

  • convey the message of the original slogan,
  • elicit a similar emotion among our French-speaking target audience, 
  • respect the brand’s tone of voice and values,
  • and create something that is short, snappy, and memorable.

In other words, a transcreator must come up with a brand-new slogan. And their method is similar to the one used to develop the original tagline. First, they make sure they have an overview of the company and their services, their target audience, and USPs; second, they brainstorm, i.e. develop several different versions; and, thirdly, they tweak the chosen phrase until it is as good as the original (if not better). If we return to our original example, we can compare our direct translation to the actual French slogan: Haribo c’est beau la vie, pour les grands et les petits. It sounds just like the original: It rhymes, it’s catchy, and it’s accurate. And it’s clear that this new transcreated version is a world away from the literal translation.

Worth the effort?

The second question that clients most often ask when considering transcreation is: “Is it worth the effort?” Most can understand the importance of going to such lengths to get a slogan right, but what about online copy, social media posts, and emails to clients? Surely they can just be translated, right? In her book Translation-Transkreation, Nina Sattler-Hovdar, the authority on the subject in the German-speaking world, recommends always resorting to transcreation if

“[…] the text to be translated is important for the client’s image (and thus has a direct or indirect impact on their revenue). […] This means texts that can substantially benefit a brand’s image (or do lasting damage to a brand if they underperform).” [Sattler-Hovdar, 2016: p. 20] (own translation).

But why? Let’s imagine you are working on an email campaign specifically aimed at a younger target group, e.g. millennials. You use a more informal style and perhaps consider a funny play on words for the subject line to grab your prospective customers’ attention (and to boost your open rate). What happens when this email is directly translated into German? Can you be sure to keep the same laid-back tone without offending any prospective readers? And what about your attention-grabbing subject line? Any sort of wordplay is almost always lost in a literal translation. In sum, everything that would resonate with your English-speaking audience and make your email unique would simply vanish – unless you decide to have your email transcreated so that the modern, fresh tone of voice is still conveyed but in a different way. 

Stay closely involved

Marketing texts involve considerable human and financial resources, and that is precisely why it is wise to also plan sufficient time for your transcreation. Only then can you be sure to convey the right message to your customers. So, how much time should you set aside for your transcreation? A good rule of thumb is to look at how much time it took to create the original: the longer it took to develop the final copy, the more time you will need to finalize your transcreation.

Ideally, you should ask an experienced transcreation specialist to give you their opinion. They should be able to tell you where the text is likely to cause issues in the target language and why. You might also be able to offer some helpful tips that enable transcreation professionals to come up with some effective alternatives: Even if you’re not a professional linguist, nobody knows your product or your company better than you. This means you are more involved in the transcreation process and may allow you to keep the number of necessary revisions to a minimum. It’s also important to thoroughly brief your transcreator. How should an audience perceive your brand? What does your company stand for? Who is your target audience? A professional will ask you all of these questions. The more information you can provide, the more efficient the remaining steps will be.

To summarize

The length of time needed to transcreate a text largely depends on how much creativity has gone into the original. For instance, a slogan usually requires more creative thinking than a newsletter text as it has to capture the very essence of a brand in just a handful of words. An experienced transcreation specialist will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the time required for your project so that the resulting text is just as well thought out, catchy, and compelling as the original.

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