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Fitting in Yet Standing Out with Transcreation across Global Markets

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Tag’s transcreation partner Rik Grant tells LBB why transcreation is essential to preserving the power and emotion of creative ideas across markets

Fitting in Yet Standing Out with Transcreation across Global Markets

Transcreation plays a really important role in the advertising industry’s ability to reach global audiences and yet it’s still a concept that can draw a quizzical look when it comes up in conversation. Though it’s connected to translation and localisation (which are familiar concepts to most) transcreation sits in its own distinct category with the power to preserve and communicate the essence of creative ideas across markets. How exactly can it do that? Rik Grant, Tag’s Transcreation Partner, calls it “linguistic alchemy” as transcreation takes into account the emotions, cultural relevance, and cadence of the creative at hand - plus so much more. 

“Marketing content needs to hit the right notes to be effective, even more so with the increasingly emotive nature of advertising. Transcreation pairs the art of creative thinking with the science of translation to help achieve maximum resonance with creative content. Each line of copy, whether a print headline, a TV script or ad copy is given consideration culturally, as well as linguistically to make each piece feel as if it were written specifically for that market. All whilst maintaining consistency with the parent English campaign,” explains Rik. 

That’s not to say that transcreation renders translation or localisation useless. In fact, translation will almost always be the go-to when it comes to web copy, product descriptions, FAQs, terms and conditions, and so on. Rik adds that translation “provides a solid, dependable standard of quality language adaptation to ensure that the information contained therein is transmitted correctly.”

Technology plays an undeniable role in language adaptation in today’s world. When we go on holiday, we’re likely to plug a few words or phrases into Google translate or rely on a translation app to help decipher a menu in a charmingly rustic restaurant somewhere in the Mediterranean. “Google has made a basic level of machine translation very accessible, which is good. What’s not good is that it’s a bit…mechanical. Sure, it’ll help you in a pinch, it’ll give you basic expressions to make yourself understood, but it has limitations – big ones,” Rik adds. We all of course know this to be true when we inevitably have to fill in the blanks and use a bit of our imagination and reasoning to understand what the translated phrase or sentence actually means. As complexity increases and turn of phrase becomes more colourful, the gaps and garbled sentences begin to reveal themselves.

With a menu on holiday for instance, the stakes are low. Maybe you won’t get exactly what you thought you were ordering and leave dinner a bit more peckish than you’d like or maybe you’ll discover a new favourite dish, but with creative ideas, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Budget, brand feel, and reputation are all at stake - here, translation just won’t cut it. You only make a first impression once after all.


Lost in Translation

When it comes to creative ideas, a direct translation will never be able to express everything that the idea is trying to communicate. A creative idea will usually draw on specific images, make cultural references, aim to inspire and arouse certain feelings, use language playfully; sometimes it’s a combination of a few or all of those factors. A direct translation will be able to give you equivalent words in the target language in, for example, a playful tagline, but it won’t make sense within the intended market due to differences in grammar, cadence, and cultural context. 

Rik points to an example of transcreated copy Tag did for Starbucks - below is the original English version. 

“It’s a chilled coffee. From Starbucks. 

Chilled as in cold. Not relaxed. Although you can enjoy it relaxed if you want. 

It’s not because you left it in your mug to go cold, cold. 

But cold, because we made it deliciously cold.”



As you can see the copy utilises a dry sense of humour, punning on the word ‘chilled’, while short sentences and multiple full stops create a staccato rhythm. To demonstrate how this copy would be read in German, the below excerpt has been ‘back-translated’ from the transcreated German copy into English: 

“A chilled coffee. From Starbucks.

Chilled like cold. Not relaxed. Although enjoying it while relaxing is pretty great too. 

Cold. But not cold, because it got cold in your cup. 

Cold. Because it needs to be cold. Tasty cold. 

Especially for you.”

Rik explains what happened in the transcreation process: “First and foremost, this is copy destined to be heard via voice-over, so it needs to sound good, we need to capture that rhythm and sharp-edged humour for the vocal delivery. Looking at the copy specifically we leave the expression ‘chilled coffee’ in English because this forms the basis of the joke and people in Germany commonly use the term ‘chill’ – most frequently to mean ‘relaxed’. We work across the rest of the copy to keep the tone light, playful and fluid, fortunately here this is a fairly straightforward adaptation – the pun works as effectively in German as in English, due to the use of the Anglicism ‘chilled’. So with some tonal adjustments we’re able to ensure that the German adaptation speaks with the same dry humour as the English copy.”

This works across different languages and cultures too. Different languages have varying levels of formality, tonality, impact and spice. What might be risqué in English can of course be said in another language in the same tone, but that tone might not be considered culturally desirable. What is quite lyrical in one language might be considered ostentatious in another, and vice-versa – every language carries with it the benchmark of appropriateness, and the thermometer of culture sets a lot of the parameters for good transcreation.

Transcreation is then the magic touch that’s vital to preserving and communicating the fruits borne of the difficult and holistic process behind creative ideas. It ensures that the intended message reaches the target audience in the right way while being mindful of the cultural context in which they’re intended to live. “Transcreation, when performed well, is an invisible art. It’s where you can’t see the strings, yet you know they help suspend the idea. Ultimately it’s about fitting in, yet still standing out,” concludes Rik.


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Tag, Mon, 17 Oct 2022 11:42:00 GMT