The Difference Between Translation and Transcreation

As businesses look for growth opportunities in other markets, they look for ways to adapt their marketing strategies to resonate in other countries. Transcreation helps them achieve this.

Also known as creative translation, transcreation is the process of translating a message from one language into another. It’s not a word-for-word translation, but rather a translation of the spirit or the gist of the message so that people in all countries have the same reaction to the marketing message.

But what, exactly, is transcreation?

What is transcreation?

At its most basic, transcreation is marketing translation. It’s used most frequently when adapting advertising and marketing copy, collateral or even the campaigns themselves. The translated messages may not use the exact same verbiage as the original, but they will convey the same idea and, ideally, elicit the same response.

Advertising and marketing require a great deal of creativity to attract consumers. However, if you literally translate a slogan from one language to another, you may miss the mark and send the exact opposite message you want.

Electrolux is just one of several companies to make this mistake. The Scandinavian vacuum cleaner company attempted to reach the U.S. market with the catchy slogan, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

That’s exactly what you want a vacuum cleaner to do, but it’s a confusing message in a country where people say, “This sucks” when they mean “This is really bad”. The message left consumers wondering why a company would promote vacuum cleaners that were so awful.

When a transcreation professional is responsible for translating marketing content, the resulting slogans and taglines can be just as memorable, without inadvertently sending the wrong message.

How is transcreation different from translation?

Transcreation and translation offer the same type of service, but each requires a different skill set from the professionals who carry them out.

Traditional translation requires fluency in the target language. For highly technical content, it may also require expertise in the respective field, like law or medicine. Transcreation is more creative and less technical, so it calls for language fluency, a creative mindset, and familiarity with the cultural norms of the target market.

Imagine, for example, that your business is running a Christmas promotion. In the UK your ad might include Santa promoting a special sale until December 25th. If your promotion is running internationally, you’ll need to adapt much more than just the text.

For one thing, not every country celebrates Christmas on December 25th. In many countries, gifts are exchanged and opened on Christmas Eve. Some countries start celebrating much earlier (many Eastern Europeans celebrate Krampusnacht on December 5th) or much later (Russians celebrate on January 7th). Boxing Day (December 26th) is celebrated in countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Also, Santa may be popular in the UK, but other countries celebrate a different Christmas figure. Children in Spain get their gifts from the Magi. Other children get them from Father Christmas, better known as Pere Noel in France or Noel Baba in Turkey.

And then there are countries that celebrate other holidays, either alongside Christmas or instead of it. Hanukkah is the more commonly celebrated holiday in Israel, while the main December holiday in Japan is Omisoka.

In this case, localizing a Christmas promotion isn’t just about translating from English into another language. It’s about knowing how (and when) other countries celebrate and then adapting content to mirror those traditions. A transcreation expert has expertise in both.

Marketing translation must strike the right balance between achieving your company’s business goals, maintaining a consistent brand voice, and crafting messages that resonate across the markets you want to reach. The most effective way to do all three is to work with a transcreation expert who combines linguistic, marketing and cultural expertise.

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