Transcreation: How Creativity Aids Translation

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There are times when a straight translation is completely necessary; but there are other times when culture, wording or brand names just won’t translate well. That’s when you need to think about transcreation, to bring creative power to the table when translating international brands.

What is Transcreation?

Transcreation is a translation built from the ground up – and sometimes, one that digs even deeper. It doesn’t rely on word-for-word accuracy, perfect communication of original meanings or rigid guidelines. While these frameworks might be the order of the day for legal or financial document translations, they don’t always work well outside of those contexts.

Transcreation takes the general idea and rebuilds it with specific language that resonates with the target audience.

This can mean an entire rebrand, including imagery – transforming a brand into one that fits with a global market or a specific region. Many brands do this today: What was once Jif in the UK is now Cif – but it goes by a host of names internationally; in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, it’s still called Jif. But Vim, Viss and Handy Andy are all alternate monikers of the same product group. The name used depends on the region and what they resonate with most.

Usually, brands like to draw the fringe international names together into one umbrella – but this can backfire spectacularly if it’s not properly considered.

Embracing Cultural Nuances: Transcreation Success Stories

Transcreation transcends traditional translation by weaving cultural nuances and local idioms into brand messaging, ensuring it resonates with diverse global audiences. A prime example of transcreation done right is Apple’s iPod Shuffle campaign. Instead of a direct translation, Apple crafted region-specific slogans like “donnez-lui de la voix” in French, which means “Let him speak,” and “Mira quién habla” for Latin American Spanish audiences, translating to “Look who’s talking.” This approach highlights the importance of understanding and integrating local cultural nuances to connect with the audience on a deeper level.

McDonald’s adaptation of its iconic “I’m lovin’ it” slogan to “Me encanta” in Spanish-speaking countries is another testament to the power of thoughtful transcreation. Recognizing that “love” might carry too strong a connotation in certain cultures, McDonald’s opted for a phrase that translates to “I really like it,” striking the right balance and maintaining the brand’s friendly and inviting tone.

Haribo’s transcreation efforts showcase how brands can maintain their playful spirit while adapting their message across languages. The German slogan “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso” was creatively transformed into phrases like “Haribo, c’est beau la vie, pour les grands et les petits” in French, capturing the brand’s essence and ensuring the message of joy and inclusivity is communicated effectively worldwide.

These examples underscore the significance of transcreation in global marketing strategies, demonstrating how brands can achieve international success by thoughtfully adapting their message to reflect local languages, cultures, and sentiments​.

Why it’s Needed

Coca-Cola’s brand name, when first marketed in China, was translated as “Bite The Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Fastened With Wax”. This was because shopkeepers were trying to recreate a word that phonetically sounded like Coca-Cola, but with existing characters that had different meaning.

They couldn’t sell a product nobody could name. Coca-Cola hadn’t prescribed a local product name, assuming the notoriety of the brand would be enough – an ethnocentric move that resulted in corruption (by necessity) of the brand.

Coca-Cola eventually designed and trademarked a new word in Mandarin: K’o K’ou K’o Lê. It means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice”, depending on context.
Coca-Cola could have avoided the initial confusion and brand dilution if it had developed a phonetic word before launching – giving shopkeepers something concrete to use. Instead, we have the Bite The Wax Tadpole story!

This isn’t the first or only time a big company has harmed itself with an international branding screw-up. It actually happens a lot more than you’d think it would, given the budgets and minds involved in international branding.

Transcreation Improves Brands Internationally

Transcreation doesn’t just avoid a brand name or slogan translating to something rude – it makes a brand better. The addition of a creative translator to an international brand team can build names and slogans that resonate with the target audience just as strongly as the original home territory wording.

Lumping everything together for convenience, or to meet budgets is ridiculous. When your marketing offends an entire nation, you might as well not market there at all. At best, it will be poorly received and won’t sell particularly well.

With transcreation, a native speaker with a creative spark and deep knowledge of the local culture shapes an image of a brand for an international audience. What one culture finds funny, another doesn’t. A phrase that’s bold and strong in one language is hilarious in another. Transcreation can take advantage of this, or rebuild entire brands and campaigns from the ground up. The creative process doesn’t always translate – but with transcreation, it’s born again – for a new language, country and culture.

Mastering Transcreation: Key Strategies for Global Brand Success

For businesses looking to thrive in the global marketplace, mastering the art of transcreation is essential. Start by deeply understanding your target audience’s cultural nuances, preferences, and potential sensitivities through comprehensive market research. Collaboration with local experts, including native linguists and cultural consultants, is indispensable to ensure that your message resonates on a personal level while maintaining your brand’s core values and identity across different cultures. Engaging your creative and marketing teams from the onset and providing a detailed creative brief will align the transcreation efforts with your overall marketing objectives, ensuring a cohesive brand message.

Visual elements and design choices must also be considered, as they play a significant role in cultural perception and acceptance. Testing your content with a segment of your target market can provide invaluable feedback, allowing for iterative improvements to fine-tune the message. Flexibility and openness to reimagining campaign elements to fit cultural contexts better can lead to more effective and engaging content. Monitoring the performance of your transcreated content and being ready to adapt based on audience reactions will further refine your approach. Above all, a deep respect for and embrace of cultural differences will pave the way for meaningful global connections, setting the foundation for long-term success in international markets.

We See Transcreation as an Art

Looking for a professional transcreation service? Contact Kwintessential to find out more. Our experienced, creative translators are standing by. Just call (UK +44) 01460 279900 or send your message to us at

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