Transadaptation: Capturing the right message for every language audience

Published on July 2nd, 2020

Languages are incredibly complex and translation is not always enough to communicate the intended meaning of words, messages or ideas. Try to translate something like the famous slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” and you will find it is impossible to capture all of its meaning and associations without writing an entire essay on its origins and use over the past 80 years.

Global brands like Nike experience the same challenge, like when they tried (and unfortunately failed) to translate their iconic “Just Do It” slogan into other languages. The original meaning and conceptual associations are all lost through translation and the company has stuck with the English version in many markets while adding supplementary text around it to reinforce the brand message for local audiences.

What Nike and many other brands are doing here is something called transadaptation, which allows you to capture the right message for every language audience.

Transadaptation in action

We have explained in more detail what transadaptation is in a previous article, but let’s quickly summarise before we go any further. Transadaptation aims to overcome the limitations of translation and help you adapt a core message for multiple audiences without the intended meaning getting lost along the way.

Imagine the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” where three simple words capture a large but powerful set of associated ideas. The company has worked hard to create this brand image and it wants to establish the same (or similar) impression in overseas markets.

In France, Spain and Germany, the slogan has been translated and then adapted to find the closest equivalent versions that capture the same meaning and conceptual ideas:

Spanish: “Me encanta”

French: “C’est tout ce que j’aime”

German: “Ich liebe es”

In Spanish, “Me encanta” translates more simply as “I love it” rather than the progressive verb used in the English version that suggests someone is currently “lovin’ it” in this moment for as long as it lasts. The Spanish version has a more generalistic meaning but it does capture the raw, almost addictive sense of indulgence that McDonald’s is trying to communicate.

The specific meanings of the two slogans are quite far apart but the idea, emotional response and overall brand image are the same – and this is what transadaptation aims to achieve.

The slogan in Brazil is even further from the original where McDonald’s uses “Amo muito tudo isso,” which directly translates as “I love all of this very much”. That doesn’t sound anything like the original slogan but it speaks to the unique linguistic features, cultural ideas and associations of Brazilians and Brazilian Portuguese in a way direct translate never could.

Adapt your messages to resonate with audiences

Transadaptation allows you to take a message, concept or idea and capture it in another language or culture, even if the specific wording needs to be different in order to achieve this. Rather than focusing on precise translation, the priority is to achieve the desired conceptual and/or emotional response from each audience.

Essentially, you are taking your original message, translating it and then adapting those translations to find the closest match that achieves the desired result.

This is important if you have a specific brand image or marketing message that you want to maintain in every market. Transadaptation keeps these concepts at the heart of your translations so they come across in the most effective way possible for each audience.

In some cases, maintaining the same message might not be the priority or this message simply may not exist in a workable way. In these cases, you might need to go even further with transcreation, which focuses entirely on achieving the desired reaction from audiences, even if this requires an entirely different message.

Posted on: July 2nd, 2020