What Is Transcreation?

January 6, 2021
What Is Transcreation?

I find it fascinating to see how different companies approach the task of connecting with foreign audiences. For those businesses that are serious about international success, transcreation plays a key role in the way that they communicate. 

Why is transcreation important? Because it provides companies with the ability to provoke the same emotional response in individuals with vastly different cultural values and ways of life. How? Let me explain with this detailed transcreation guide. 

What Is Transcreation?

To define transcreation, I want to start with the word itself. ‘Transcreation’ combines ‘translation’ and ‘creation,’ as this is precisely what the process delivers. 

What is transcreation? The transcreation definition in the MacMillan dictionary is: “a distinct translation process that is mainly used to describe the adaptation of advertising and marketing copy.”

While this is an accurate way to define transcreation in literature, it doesn’t quite emphasise the creative nature of the process sufficiently. Transcreated materials may bear very little resemblance to the source documents that were provided as part of the project brief. That’s because transcreations are usually entirely new documents, as opposed to translations that have undergone localization. 

My own transcreation definition, therefore, runs more along the lines of: a process that blends translation and creation, to deliver messages in other languages that evoke the same response as the original. This means that those who transcreate will keep the intent and style of the original message in mind, while comprehensively adapting it to hold maximum appeal for the target audience. 

This is perhaps best understood when we look at translation and transcreation side by side. I’ll take a look at some of the differences between the two below. 

 

The Key Differences Between Transcreation and Translation

What is the difference between translation and transcreation? It’s a question that I’ve been asked plenty of times over the year. In a nutshell, translation deals with converting one language to another, while transcreation services deal with converting the essence of a document from one culture to another. 

Translators work with words. They take a source document – a blog post, legal contract, video file or one of a hundred other items – and convert it into another language. Depending on the client’s wishes, the translation could be a simple word-for-word exchange (known as literal or direct translation) or could incorporate some creativity. This creativity ranges from semantic translation, in which the translation mirrors the original but with some scope for paraphrasing, through to much more creative forms of translation, where the translator has much greater freedom as they work with the copy. 

However, even the most creative translations are not the same as transcreations. When the copywriter sits down to transcreate, they usually write their copy from scratch. Yes, they may have seen the source document, but they are not using the language in that as the basis of their work. Instead, those who transcreate for a living work from a brief that outlines what the client is seeking to achieve in terms of impact, style, tone, context and the like. 

Note that I used the term ‘copywriter’ instead of ‘translator’ above when talking about those who transcreate. That’s because the transcreation process tends to call for copywriting first and foremost, while translation is focused on language conversion as the priority. 

I should add a quick word here about where localization fits into all of this. Localization is the process of adapting a translation to better suit a new audience. As with both direct and creative translation, the process starts with a source document that must be translated, rather than a copywriting brief. 

Of course, in practice the differences between translation and transcreation can often be more subtle. I’ve detailed a few of them below, to highlight how distinctly different the two processes are.

Source Document Versus Brief

Translation focuses on converting the source document into another language. Transcreation focused on creating new content based on a brief (which will include the source document but focus more on concept and intent).  

Copywriting Versus Language Conversion

A translator’s role is to convert one language to another. Those who deliver transcreations, on the other hand, are engaged to provide copywriting and other creative services, from ideation and conceptualisation to more practical skills such as desktop publishing. 

Not All Documents Should Be Transcreated

It’s possible to translate pretty much any document, from written content to audio and video files. However, not all documents should be transcreated. Consider the example of a legal contract detailing an individual’s terms and conditions of employment or of a contract for the purchase of a house. Transcreating these documents simply wouldn’t be appropriate – they call for translation that remains wholly faithful to the original sources. 

Transcreation Costs More

Transcreation usually costs more than translation. Translation work is also easier to price up – it’s simply a question of knowing the number of words and the required languages. The translator can then charge per word. 

Transcreation projects are a little trickier to cost up. Time needs to be allowed for the ideation phase of the work, as well as the copywriting itself. As such, those who transcreate often charge by the hour or for the project as a whole. 

What Is Transcreation Used For?

Transcreation serves a range of purposes. In recent years, it has come to form part of many companies’ overseas marketing strategies, but that is far from its only use. Let me provide a few examples by way of explanation. 

Advertising and Marketing

I’ll start with advertising and marketing. These professions make heavy use of transcreation when it comes to selling products and enhancing brands’ reputations and reach overseas. Transcreations can include print and digital adverts, marketing copy, presentations, brochures and more. 

Transcreation is also used for videos and for social media content. How is transcreation produced digitally? The application of transcreation to digital marketing sees the copywriter begin with a brief and work to create a fresh digital advert that delivers the same intent and emotive response as the original. 

This is just the same as for those who transcreate print ads. For a more detailed look at advertising in translation, you can click the link below. 

Read more: Advertising Translation – Everything You Need to Know

Literature

It was literary translation that first gave rise to the art of transcreation. What is transcreation in art? One example is the contemporary transcreation of Sanskrit classics back in the mid-20th century, which Indian poet and translator Purushottama Lal described as “largely a matter of transcreation” due to the translator’s need to edit, reconcile, and transmute rather than simply translate. 

A more recent example of artistic/literary transcreation is the adaptation of Spider-Man comic books for Indian audiences. In India, it is the dhoti-wearing Pavitr Prabhakar who becomes Spider-Man, rather than Peter Parker. Based in Mumbai, Spider-Man battles enemies such as the demon Rahshasa, as opposed to the Green Goblin. The transcreation was delivered by the Gotham Entertainment Group to create a stronger emotional connection with Indian audiences – and, of course, to sell more comics. 

Televisual Content Transcreation

Artistic transcreation can also apply to televisual content. Japanese manga series Doraemon, for example, saw both settings and characters altered significantly when it was presented to US viewers. 

Video Game Transcreation

The hugely lucrative video game industry also makes plenty of use of transcreation. Games are frequently transcreated to ensure they appeal more to foreign audiences. By resonating better with players, a game can dramatically increase its profits. 

Mobile App Transcreation

Mobile apps also use transcreation to appeal to a wider audience and to connect more deeply with users. As with video games, the apps are transcreated by specialists working to a detailed brief about what is needed to resonate culturally with the new audience. 

Best Practices When Transcreating

If you have a document (or any other kind of file) to transcreate, I advise following a number of best practices in order to get the most out of the process. 

Undertake Market Research

When you reach out to any new audience, it’s essential to understand how your messaging and product are likely to be received. As such, it’s best to carry out market research in order to gauge how your target readers/viewers/users are likely to respond. 

Prepare a Detailed Brief

If you plan to engage a transcreation specialist, focus on the quality of your brief. A full, carefully thought-out brief can both speed up the transcreation process and drive up the quality of the transcreations that are delivered. 

Use a Specialist Transcreation Company

Be sure to engage a transcreation company with expertise and experience in your specific field. Video game transcreation and marketing transcreation, for example, require different skillsets, despite being based around the same principles. As such, it’s important to discuss the relevance of your transcreation company’s specialisms before engaging them for your project. 

The Transcreation Process

What is transcreation like in practice? Below, I’ll walk you through the transcreation process to show precisely what is involved. 

Market Research

As I mentioned above, the first phase of any transcreation process should be market research. This plays a key role in shaping the approach to the project. 

Marketing Message Extraction

Staying true to the company’s marketing message and counter checking it with the market research is another key part of the early transcreation process. While transcreation affords the copywriter a vast amount of creativity, there are certain elements that have to remain the same in the transcreated copy. Marketing messages are one of them, so these need to be extracted from the source document and included in the transcreator’s brief. 

That brief should also contain detailed guidance on tone, intent, context, style, company ethos, unique selling points of the product/brand and anything else that the person undertaking the transcreation would benefit from knowing. 

Adaptation

When it comes to drafting a marketing message in accordance with the market research and the company’s vision/message, the adaptation needs very careful attention. Formulating the correct marketing message using the right language and tone is another factor that will influence how the transcreation process progresses. 

Transcreation

Once it’s time to transcreate, having completed all of the above, the creative juices can really begin to flow. The transcreation process can encompass words, images, videos and more, so it’s important to engage in a productive and proactive dialogue with your chosen transcreation specialist throughout the process. 

With the right brief and plenty of solid market research to work with, an experienced transcreator should be able to produce documents that truly resonate with those you are trying to reach. This is the case no matter how vast the cultural and linguistic gulfs between the source document and the target audience may be. 

A talented transcreator will keep you updated throughout the process, so that there are no nasty surprises along the way. They will agree their ideas with you and check in regularly regarding progress, so that you have the ability to feed into the transcreations along the way. 

Summary

I hope that this detailed rundown of what transcreation is and how it works has been of use to you. To recap, we’ve looked at: 

• How to define transcreation and what it entails

• The key differences between translation and transcreation

• What transcreation is used for

• Best practices when transcreating 

• The transcreation process itself

Carried out using the right approach and with a thorough brief, transcreation can make a huge difference to how a brand and its products or services are received by new audiences. If your business is looking into expanding into new territories, it’s never to soon to start considering how transcreation could help you do so. After all, if you’re going to put effort into connecting with foreign audiences, it makes sense to ensure that your communications have the maximum chance of evoking the responses you want them to.