Translation vs Transcreation

Translation is simply the re-writing of a document from one language to another. The terminology and tone of the original material should be maintained in the translated version. The final text should not only be linguistically correct but also take into consideration any cultural nuances.

With business going global and the opening of multiple markets across several continents now easier than ever before, it is more important than ever too for brands to have their documents and marketing materials translated effectively. Mistakes are always costly. They can easily be the big difference between success and failure for a brand in a particular territory.

This is where transcreation comes in.

Transcreation goes beyond translation

Transcreation is content translation infused with creative writing — to deliver that emotional connection with target audiences in their own language. The end product of a transcreated content is that both the branding and marketing messages are culturally adapted for its new audience.

This is why transcreation goes much further than a straightforward translation. The tone, emotion and context need to suit the target language and its audience perfectly. For branding and marketing messages, these must engage and appeal to the target audience, whilst still maintaining the original brand direction.

Transcreation is definitely a right way for global brands to guard against cultural faux pas - all too easy to occur if careful market research has not been undertaken. It is for this reason that transcreation these days is intrinsic to global marketing campaigns.

When things get lost in translation

There are many reasons why the nuance of a marketing message can get lost in a straightforward or literal translation. There are also countless examples where the translation has simply not been properly written.

If anything, it is such errors that serve as the clearest reminder of the importance of transcreation. Of course, readers can raise a smile, or it cause a chuckle. Indeed, some mistakes can be laugh-out-loud funny. But, the joke is most definitely on the brand if such an error occurred.

You most certainly won't be laughing if errors were associated with your brand - and such mistakes can be very costly indeed.

Global fried-chicken giants KFC got off to a sticky start as they opened their first branches in China in the late 1980s. Somehow the famous slogan "Finger Lickin' Good" was translated into "Eat your fingers off" - a far less appetising tagline!

Take HSBC for example. In 2009 the bank went global with its US campaign "Assume Nothing." Unfortunately, in some territories this was translated as "Do Nothing." All in all and to cut a long story short, HSBC ended up spending $10 million to change its tagline to "The world's private bank."

Browse the internet and you'll find no shortage of funny examples of when translation had gone badly wrong - from the New Zealand restaurant proudly claiming to be "Open seven days a week and weekends too" to the Paris dress shop selling "Dresses for street walking."

When to use which

Translation scope: Technical, Legal, Financial, Engineering, Factual content etc.
Transcreation scope: Branding, Marketing, Creatives, Consumer-driven content etc.

If you are planning on going global with your brand and business, and want to connect and engage your target audiences in their preferred language, transcreation is something you should consider for your global branding and marketing programs, right down to transcreating information about your service or product.

The branding message of your brand, its colloquial appeal and particular on nuances need transcreation more than translation to succeed in foreign native language-speaking markets.