When I travel through Europe, I often cross language lines every few hundred miles. As a content marketer, I can’t help comparing the different versions of the same campaigns I run into. I always ask myself one question: Does the content seem like it was written in the target language?
The answer to that question tends to be no: It just looks like a lousy translation. I feel like an afterthought rather than a target audience.
Transcreation appeared precisely to fill that gap between content as it was conceived and the public perception in a different market. In fact, we can trace its origins back to the 1980s, when the video-game industry began to tailor text, images, and story lines to cater to global markets.
Image attribution: Tobias Moore
Original content creation will always be the gold standard for conveying a brand’s message in other languages, but when that’s not an option, transcreation is a much more sophisticated solution than translation. Unlike direct translation, transcreation involves additional content adaptation and customized imagery.
Bernardo Llorente, Skyword’s senior editor and content strategist for global content services, explained, “Transcreation is now a starting point for most enterprise clients.” Consequently, the first thing they want to know is what transcreation can do that simple translation can’t.
For example, in the US, the Walt Disney World Resort is described as “half the size of Rhode Island,” but most people in Japan or the UK don’t know how big Rhode Island is, so they won’t get the reference. That’s why in Japan, the park is said to be “the size of the Tokyo subway system,” and in Britain, “the size of Greater Manchester.”
Some would argue, though, that that’s just a good translation, and they have a point. Cultural relevance should be taken for granted in professional translation. In my view, the real differences lie in the process and the objective. Transcreation requires experience in copywriting; it starts with a creative brief instead of just providing text, and it may require a “back-translation” into English for headquarters to be able to work with the text. Above all, the purpose of transcreation is to produce new copy that resonates in a given market. The concept remains, but the message sounds, feels, and looks like original content.
Bernardo provided further insight by way of example. An article on cyberattacks against small-business owners for a US-led digital publication contains the following statistic: As reported by the National Small Business Association (NSBA), cyberattacks cost small businesses an average of $8,699 per attack in 2013, but in 2014, the cost rose to $20,752. The NSBA predicts that number to rise again by the end of 2015. The English text is specific to the US market: The currency is US dollars and the data comes from an American organization. A link back to the NSBA’s report would lead to an English-language webpage. A direct translation would leave a non-English speaker confused and annoyed.
This same article transcreated for a French-speaking audience would read: En moyenne, en 2015, les cyber-attaques ont coûté annuellement 4,8 millions d’euros, et ce chiffre ne cesse d’augmenter. Back-translated into English, this reads: On average, in 2015, cyberattacks cost €4.8 million annually, and this figure continues to increase. Instead of simply translating a statistic that is irrelevant for the French-speaking reader, the transcreator found a study in French on the same topic and substituted a comparable statistic in a currency the reader is familar with and a link to a French-language website.
Transcreators think not just like translators but also like content creators. They research the local market, link to appropriate sources, localize details, and consider how things like tone make the content more engaging and meaningful to a local audience.
At the end of the process, a transcreated webpage takes on a life of its own. Compare the following screenshots of transcreated English- and Spanish-language versions of the same content.
Transcreation also modifies the visual context, for instance using different images, and it works together with localization to adapt functions and features, like proposing different services in the buttons under the picture in the Spanish version and offering the appropriate gated assets.
Translation is mainly about language. Good translators are not literal—they understand context—but they are not copywriters.
Localization, however, focuses on making the practical details work: displaying local currencies and units of measure, using the right date and time formats, or checking spelling and grammar by region and not by language.
Localization and transcreation may overlap in certain areas. The latter, however, concentrates more on the look and feel, the creative work and, at the end, the production of professional copy relevant for a given market. Hence, as with original content, having a common platform for interaction and communication allows the team to:
Transcreation requires time and money, but short of original content, it’s the best way to target customers in a new market. If brands demand the best possible copy in their home market, why should they settle for second-rate content abroad?
Of course, there’s no substitute for original content for foreign audiences, but there are certain cases where translation or transcreation can save the day.
Bernardo explains that translation is suitable “when articles from multiple languages will be translated into global English (or standard Spanish) and/or when articles are targeting a general global persona, rather than local, specific personas. Translation is also an option when the client’s budget is limited and does not allow for transcreation or original content.”
“Transcreate when articles are targeting local, specific personas rather than a general global persona,” Bernardo says, “and when cultural relevancy is critical in order to connect with the local market.”
If content has local references, wordplay, or humor, those are the clues that transcreation is needed to maintain the copy pizzazz and personality.
More than 51 percent of content is written in English, and, in my experience, many brands are not sufficiently aware of the extent to which bad translations render that content ineffective or even unintelligible. It’s difficult to measure the effects in terms of engagement, but ask yourself: How long would you stay on a page that doesn’t say anything to you, or worse, that doesn’t say anything at all?
If you are conducting marketing efforts in a foreign market, read the translations you’re using, or order a back-translation. Then ask yourself, as we writers and translators can’t help doing whenever we come across a new piece of content, whether that copy seems originally written for the target audience. If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to start thinking of transcreation.
Featured image attribution: Cristina Gottardi