Considered to be the Rolls-Royce of linguistic transformations, transcreations (a contraction of translation and creation) are a separate multilingual service. They respond to a specific need, which is often that of marketing texts.

The term “transcreation” first appeared in the middle of the last century, to define a particular type of creative content translation. The transcreation process consisted of rewriting a text in another language, with the aim of eliciting the same emotional response that a reader of the original text would have experienced.

Because creativity plays an important role in the process, transcreation services find themselves right at the crossroads between translation, localisation, copy-writing and journalism. And just as the authors of the source text dedicate a huge amount of time and effort to creating their content, the transcreation specialist must provide the foreign-language reader with a translation of the same high quality. This means translating not just the text, but the ideas behind the words, inciting the reader to commit, purchase, take action or sign up, or promoting a specific image or brand awareness.

When transcreation should be used, and why it matters

The definition of transcreation is localising, rewriting, reconstructing and conveying a perfectly-adapted message to the target culture, without deviating from the meaning, style, tone or context of the source. The emotions that the message carries need to be in tune with the target culture.

It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that transcreation is mainly called for in the marketing and advertising sectors. This avoids the publishing of mediocre, incorrect or haphazard translations which could spoil everything that the company has worked hard to build over the years. There are countless examples of marketing failures because of bad translations (some of them funny enough to go viral!); but what is less funny is the costs that can be incurred from carrying out a simple localisation vs a transcreation.

Coors Light famously tried to recreate the success of their slogan “Turn it loose!”, used to sell their beers in the US. They dutifully translated into Spanish, without realising that Spanish readers were being encouraged to turn something else loose… namely their bowel movements. And diarrhoea is not what you want to be encouraging when you are in the food and drinks business!

Another amusing example where transcreation should have been de rigueur: American Airlines settled upon the stylish slogan “Fly in Leather” to advertise their new first-class seats. However, the Spanish translation “Vuela en cueros“, raised some eyebrows in the Latin American market, where people got the impression that they were being invited to fly naked!

What makes a translator a transcreation specialist?

Artificial Intelligence is developing at lightning speed, pushing us towards a new industrial revolution according to some. However, despite the leaps of progress that machine learning has made, giving it the power to create and tell stories, its talents still don’t match those of a transcreator. It is still not truly capable of creating a real and lasting impact.

Until machines are able to philosophise, they will always be missing a key ingredient. Does this mean that a transcreator is a philosopher? In a certain way, yes: they think, question and doubt things that a machine would not.

A transcreator must of course be an excellent translator and a gifted writer. Just like a translator, they write in their native language. However, the difference between transcreation and translation lies in cultural nuances: a transcreator must live in the country where the text will be published, and have an in-depth knowledge of the culture, the society as a whole and its current affairs.

What is the process behind transcreation?

    1. Transcreation starts with a creative concept, a brief, and any relevant texts, slogans or tag lines in the original language.
    2. The project manager carries out an analysis of the different file formats and of the content that needs to be transcreated. They do a word count, advise the client on process and logistics, then establish the rates for transcreation and, if necessary, for translation. As is the case for standard translations, the price of a transcreation depends on a multitude of factors such as the sector, source and target languages or cultures, and the urgency of the project. Although transcreation services can be needed in the initial planning stages, the transcreator is more likely to be called upon at the end of the project, by the project manager.
    3. They will have been selected according to their expertise in the relevant domain. The transcreator then analyses the different elements that they will be working on. They bring the project manager’s attention to any aspects of the source material that should be avoided for the target market; this could be a colour, an image or a phrase.
    4. After this initial planning phase, the transcreation can begin. This process does not generally involve the use of a Computer-Assisted Translation.
    5. Proofreading and editing: after completing a first version, the transcreator makes any necessary corrections to improve the quality of the first draft. This could involve reworking the phrasing, organising the text differently, ensuring the appropriate vocabulary is used and adjusting terminology. If the transcreator is working on a slogan or a short text, they generally propose two or three alternatives, along with detailed notes and explanations, so that the advertiser can choose the option which best suits their vision.

Transcreation vs translation

Some will say that transcreation is simply what a good translation should look like. However, this is a simplified and somewhat erroneous view of what is involved in different types of linguistic transformation. A translation cannot change the original text, or modify its meaning to elicit the same response from the reader. A transcreation, by definition, can completely transform the source text in order to reach the same objective.

Because each of our client’s international objectives are different, our agency offers four different levels of translation depending on your needs:

As a general rule, any text which sets out to convince the readership to undertake or believe something should be transcreated.

  • Advertising projects, strategic advice, press releases and press kits, pamphlets, posters, TV and radio commercials.
  • Publication projects, magazine articles, editorials and opinion pieces.
  • Extremely high-end and specialised projects: often in this case, the cost and impact of a mistranslation would be considerably higher than that initially paid to produce the translation.
  • Projects with an elegant and precise writing style that needs to be replicated in the target language.