The term “transcreation” is fairly new in the language-services world. Originating in the advertising sector, the concept of transcreation has become increasingly widespread in recent years. These days, transcreation is the go-to service when it comes to translating marketing materials. But what is transcreation; what can it do? Is it essential, a trend, the solution to a problem or simply an attempt to charge higher prices?
Let’s start by actually defining the word. As a combination of the words translation and creation, it describes the process of “creative translation.” But that is a bit misleading. After all, transcreation entails more than just conveying the content of a text as fully and originally as possible in another language. Translation of this kind requires a completely different set of skills, because it involves a cultural adaptation of the text. That means paying attention to the visual context, the key messages and brand identity as well as to the target market and audience. Transcreation is more like a special type of localization* in which the translator attempts to maintain the intention, tone and message of the original concept while adapting it to the linguistic and cultural specificities of the actual target market and a certain audience.
Transcreation – a cure-all?
But not only – and not all – advertising or marketing material has to be “transcreated.” In fact, transcreation is appropriate for any written material that features cultural and visual references or wordplay and that should evoke a specific association or reaction from the reader. Examples of types of text that would benefit from being adapted with a target group in mind include press releases, a very culturally specific medium that is constructed and dealt with differently in different markets. With a straight translation, we get a final text that only in the rarest of cases adheres to the local conventions and speaks to the reader.
A transcreation helps formulate a message in a way that can be correctly interpreted by its audience, so that they don’t even notice that it’s a translation. This applies to any medium – be it a print ad, a billboard, a radio or television commercial or a press release. The audience should not stumble over the juxtaposition of text and visual content. The message must strike exactly the chord that triggers the desired reaction.
All marketing specialists are familiar with the challenges associated with “translating” a global message for their brand. In the course of internationalization, the meaning and connotation of terms shift, images come across differently and colors evoke disparate emotions. If you don’t carefully adhere to the rules of transcreation, a concept may end up not only lacking resonance and efficacy, but generating completely different associations. Or it may be completely misunderstood.
Creativity meets structure
So, how does transcreation work in practice? Which tools and skill sets are necessary and what kind of workflow does it require?
Just like every other translation job, everything begins with the project head or account manager at the language-services provider (LSP). These days, our account managers – all highly qualified linguists – need to possess a wide range of skills. Maintaining a position as the key link between communications/marketing departments and production or post-production, between global head offices and local branches and between approval chains on the customer side and translators or copywriters presents many complex demands. They call for a high level of maturity in terms of customer care and a profound understanding of individual project members as well as their perspectives and work styles, workflows and needs. Anyone looking to successfully localize a slogan, claim or a press release needs to be aware of the following things: the intention of the original text, the intended audience, and the original concept’s purpose from a marketing and branding standpoint. You also have to be in a position to manage the localization process, meaning you have to be able to guide the translators and copywriters by providing them with the relevant information and, when necessary, correct them when they are on the wrong track. This last point also applies to the approval process and post-production on the customer side.
The ability to make this happen requires certain standard processes in addition to experience and expertise. As soon as you begin to put together the project’s key information, you as the project head have to think about which questions to ask and what to look out for. Apart from determining the fundamental factors such as key messages, target groups and focus markets (vs. target language), you have to closely examine the visual and text-based construct at hand to identify cultural and linguistic stumbling blocks, ideally before it is reproduced in the respective languages. One hotel chain that advertises with a picture of an elegantly decorated table would not resonate appropriately in Israel if the table is set with a plate of nonkosher shrimp, for example. In this type of context, it would be advisable to substitute the image with something else before localization. Over the course of preparing the project, we also have to investigate which references can be sacrificed if necessary, which alternative creative routes can be taken, and whether female or male characters should be used in the transcreation. After all, depending on the product advertised, this decision can have a palpable impact on the result.
Furthermore, it’s vital to a project’s success to keep our sights set on the end product through every step of the process. This means asking ourselves whether the text will appear in a print ad, website banner, commercial or cross-media claim, where it may have to be integrated into various visual and semantic contexts. Depending on the target medium and purpose, the project head must be familiar with the specific obstacles. He or she has to know how spoken language in a TV commercial is localized and which technical aspects need to be taken into account for a banner.
The project head has to consolidate, structure and communicate this information in the form of a briefing so that all of the project members – from translator or copywriter to approval person and post-production – are on the same page and look at and edit the text under the same conditions. As a next step a source document has to be created that outlines the visual and text components in such a way that it instantly steers them in the right direction. That means the copywriter should be able to recognize upon first glance what is being requested and assess the situation from the document. Are we dealing with, for example, a project that needs to be approved at a central level? If that’s the case, every translation suggestion, every adaptation, will need to include a word-for-word reverse translation in the language spoken at this corporate level. Explanations that provide detailed reasons for each adaptation are always obligatory. These reasons must also go into why a certain word-for-word translation, an image or a color doesn’t work – for example, if they evoke undesirable connotations – and why the associations and definitions of the chosen adaptation do. Everyone in the chain of approval must be able to understand and weigh in on the presented adaptations right away.
During a transcreation process, the LSP must ensure through internal quality assurance not only that the adaptations are correct and relevant; they must also make sure the reverse translations and reasons are clear and meaningful.
During the approval process, which can often include multiple rounds of revision for a transcreation, the LSP has to implement the feedback with help from the copywriter in line with the original briefing and with the target medium in mind. Some people forget, for example, that we’re dealing with the spoken word in a 30-second advertising spot and then proceed to change the text into long, awkward sentences.
Brand image – consistency requested
In every transcreation project, brand identity overshadows everything else. We have to make sure that the global brand identity is honored in all languages of the transcreation and that the campaign messages are implemented as consistently and congruently as possible. Why do end customers or advertising agencies decide to hire a central service provider to localize their global campaign instead of developing individual local campaigns or letting the local agency branches make their own adjustments? For one, the global head office is looking for more efficiency and transparency when it comes to local cost and content. And second of all, the importance a cohesive, cross-market look and feel and a unified brand presence holds true all across the globe. The more cohesive the campaign that a brand presents, the greater the probability that it consistently resonates with consumers.
All in all, transcreation is a very complex and comprehensive localization process with a central point of contact – represented by the LSP – that ensures that all essential information is received and is communicated among and heeded by everyone involved in the project. A prerequisite for this is an equal measure of creativity and cultural affinity as well as project-management and procedural abilities. This is a skill set that can’t be taught in a classroom.
At this point, we should also mention that transcreation should be part of a family of services that covers the additional needs of the marketing localization. That is the only way to position ourselves as a consultant and to support customers in all linguistic and cultural questions. Furthermore, the translation provider offers an extremely important added value by recognizing potential localization issues in advance and, if necessary, circumnavigating them. Associated added-value services include, for example, cross-cultural checks, cultural insight and name checks.
So, every company that wants to include transcreation in its portfolio needs to encourage a culture in which the product of the translation is not decoupled from the big picture in a sole attempt to get it linguistically right. Instead, the culture should encourage services that focus on the end product and meet the needs of all involved parties. This demands a strong talent network, a huge capacity for communication on the part of the project head and a splash of good instinct. After all, managing a transcreation process requires asking a lot of questions, which some customers are not used to getting from their translation provider.
Transcreation has to be a narrowly defined product that falls in line with the internal company processes and product lines. Workflow and product specifications must be staked out precisely and methodically. This is the only way to ensure that the customer receives a distinct product distinguishable from other services. The customer has to understand what final result to expect, in terms of form and content.
Transcreation is not a cure-all for the standard differences in taste when it comes to text, but it isn’t a fleeting trend, either. Transcreation is the answer to the demand for a product that will help bring customers success in their markets without taking a detour to local marketing agencies or having to readjust or even completely throw out large portions of a global campaign. In transcreation, complex processes are centrally managed, branding and key messages are communicated in a unified manner, and everything unfolds with transparent costs and content. As a service provider, we go to bat for the customer with our internal team and form a natural bridge to global markets with an external talent network.
* In software development, localization refers to the adaptation of content to a certain geographically or ethnically divergent target group. (Source: Wikipedia)