Marketing Translation vs Transcreation: What You Need to Know

If translations are worth anything, they’re about more than just transcribing the literal meaning of one text into another. The kind of auto-translation provided by Google Translate just won’t do when it comes to conveying subtleties of meaning, tone, and culture from one language to another.

Nowhere is this more important than in marketing. Consumers know when they are being talked down to or offered the sort of ersatz message that tries to connect emotionally but misses the mark. Much of the time this is because the subtleties of individual cultures have been missed.

There are two ways to address this―high-quality professional translation or something called transcreation. Here’s a brief breakdown of these two concepts:

Translation is the nuanced transmission of meaning from one language to another. Traditionally, this has been the common approach, ensuring not only that the meaning of individual words and sentences is conveyed but also that the content is appropriate, including employing different idiomatic expressions and the appropriate style and register.

Transcreation takes things a step further, replacing culturally specific references from one language with near equivalents in another language that convey the same nuanced feeling or point. Although this creative approach has been particularly in vogue in the 21st century, the term ‘transcreation’ was originated in 1962, coined by Indian scholar and translator Purushottama Lal.

Lal was describing the act of modernizing and updating ancient Sanskrit classics, where it wouldn’t do to simply translate concepts that would make no sense to a 20th century audience.

Transcreation in Marketing

For marketing purposes, you need to start with the audience―what should be their takeaway? Who are they, primarily? Are you translating across cultural, socioeconomic, or other demographic boundaries? If so, a transcreative approach will ensure your copy is laser-targeted to appeal to the intended readership.

A great example is the rebranding of Spiderman for the Indian market. The Indian Spiderman’s real name is Pavitr Prabhakar, and he wears a dhoti when he’s not in his iconic spider-suit. He battles a supernatural demon from Hindu mythology, Rakshasa, rather than the Green Goblin. This act of transcreation builds a sense of ownership amongst Marvel’s Indian readership.

Transcreation might start with the text but it could also include slogans and jingles, visual branding, and video content.

It can help you avoid costly errors as well, such as when Puma insulted the UAE by using the colors of its flag in their new sneaker release. Consulting someone with intimate cultural knowledge could have avoided this embarrassment.

To avoid similar issues, employ a transcreative approach when the content and communication intent make it paramount. Hire an experienced professional agency that will ensure that you don’t miss an opportunity, or commit a terrible faux pas.