Copywriting can be one of the most challenging types of content to translate. You put a lot of effort into crafting the perfect message, but can still end up losing the intended meaning of your original message through just word-for-word translation alone. Transcreation is a specialist language service that overcomes the challenges of translating creative copy. This article explains the relationship between transcreation and copywriting, plus why these two are so important for modern businesses.
What is transcreation & how is it relevant to copywriting?
Transcreation combines translation and copywriting for the purpose of adapting marketing and advertising messages for multilingual audiences. It steps in when direct translation isn’t enough to convey the intended meaning of a message that uses creative language, which can often get very lost in the translation process.
Slogans are a perfect example of this as they tend to use linguistic devices to elicit an emotional response from audiences. This typically involves wordplay, puns, metaphors, idiomatic expressions rooted in cultural references, as well as other language features that can only be understood in the context of the original source language.
Does all copywriting require transcreation?
Not necessarily. Brand slogans are high on the list of copywriting examples that require transcreation, but not all forms of copywriting use the same level of creative language.
For example, product descriptions require a lot of factual information which in theory shouldn’t cause too many issues with direct translation.
That being said, when using highly-emotive headings to describe the key benefits of your products or CTAs, these elements could require transcreation. It all comes down to the depth of creativity in your copywriting and the risk of having your intended meaning getting lost through standard translation.
When does a campaign need transcreation?
If you are unsure whether a campaign requires transcreation (or which aspects of it require a transcreated approach), the best solution is to work closely with creative language experts who can provide cultural consultation and at the same time, help you decide on which aspects of your creative copy need to be transcreated. Some of the biggest brands on the planet have gotten this severely wrong over the years and many continue to struggle as more and more advertising messages hit consumers every day – so don’t feel bad if the answer isn’t always obvious.
As a general guide, the more creative a piece of copywriting is, the more likely it is to require transcreation. It is also important to be cautious when borrowing words from other languages like car companies always trying to pick exotic-sounding names for every model.
This has gone wrong countless times over the years, with one of the famous examples being the Ford Pinto entering the Brazilian market in the 1970s (Unfortunately, “pinto” is an unflattering slang term for male genitalia in Brazilian Portuguese).
A good transcreation strategy with cultural consultation would have flagged this early in the process, helping to come up with a more flattering product name for the Brazilian market.
What’s a good example of transcreation done well?
You’ll find plenty of online articles listing horror stories where direct translation resulted in PR nightmares and disasters for brands expanding overseas. Transcreation, along with a cultural consultation service, could have saved all of these companies from a lot of embarrassment – and financial losses – but let’s discuss a working example of transcreation done well.
One of the best examples is the transcreation of Haribo’s slogan and jingle. The German brand’s original slogan directly translates as “Haribo makes children happy – and adults as well”. Now, that’s a far cry from the English version of “Kids and grown-ups love it so – the happy world of HARIBO,” even though it contains all of the same conceptual elements.
The original slogan works perfectly well in German but the catchiness, innocence and emotion are completely lost in the direct translation. In transcreating the slogan, the company has come up with a close alternative for English that is just as powerful as the original and matches the same jingle tune.
The company has done this for every major market with great success.
Knowing when to leave the copywriting alone
Every transcreation project is unique and you have to take a strategic approach based on each target audience. Traditionally, China has been one of the most challenging markets for international companies to crack, but also one of the most profitable when it works out.
Nike is one of the world’s biggest brand names and its “Just Do It” slogan is one of the most iconic examples of copywriting in history. The company has fought hard to build a presence in China but nothing has been easy for the biggest name in sportswear.
One of its first challenges was trying to translate that iconic “Just Do It” slogan into Chinese. This may sound simple but think about how much meaning is packed into those three simple words. One slogan could be interpreted in so many ways: “Don’t think about it; just do it,” “Do it now, rather than later,” “If you want something, make it happen” and so many other potential nuances.
Trying to recreate this slogan in another language – especially one with great linguistic and cultural difference as Chinese – feels almost impossible. So, after several failed attempts, Nike took the only sensible decision. It decided not to translate its slogan and stick with the English version instead.
The genius in Nike’s marketing was to build campaigns around the English slogan so that it could shape the perception Chinese consumers have of it. A series of localised and transcreated marketing campaigns designed specifically for Chinese consumers built the brand image around its slogan and gave meaning to the original English version.
Does your next campaign need transcreation?
If your next marketing or advertising campaign needs transcreation or you are unsure about which parts of your copywriting for your marketing and ad messages could get lost in translation, our creative language services team is equipped to help you achieve in-market relevance.
Need help with your next advertising campaign? Get in touch with our transcreation experts today.