Transcreation – maximising the desired impact in every language

Published on January 16th, 2015

Communication is the foundation of all interaction and the key to how we establish and maintain relationships, whether formal or informal. I would liken good communication to a telephone line: if the network provider’s signal is clear then regardless of where you are in the world you will be able to connect and have an effective conversation. If the signal is poor, however, you will find that you only understand some words or nothing at all, whilst having to repeat yourself several times in the process. What’s more, you’ll probably need to start over, redial and pay for that call again. Frustrating right?

You may be wondering how this relates to transcreation. Well, transcreation is the ability to communicate a message in any language whilst maintaining the same impact of the original source language. It is a particularly effective tool in advertising as it facilitates the execution of the desired reaction from the target audience. Aside from being an in-country linguist, whose mother tongue is that of the target country, a transcreator must also be someone who has a knowledge and understanding of the target culture and an expert in the subject area. Such skills mean that they will be able to creatively adapt the text to suit the same tone and style of the original text, which is very different from directly translating an existing text into another language.

Let’s take for example KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). When they opened their first branch in China, they translated their original slogan, “finger lickin’ good”, into Chinese, which resulted in the rather unfortunate “eat your fingers off”. Similarly, when “Coca Cola” was first translated into Chinese, it became “Ke-kou-ke-la”, which can be interpreted as either “female horse stuffed with wax” or “bite the wax tadpole”.

Such messages were therefore lost in translation and needless to say both companies amended this swiftly!

While such attempts at direct translation can be quite amusing to read, for businesses this can be quite costly, particularly in advertising, brand reputation, audience outreach and time to market. It is vital that whatever is translated does not lose its core meaning, and the creative freedom that transcreation offers can be key to this success.

Now let’s look at a good example of how transcreation can reduce the chances of a poor reception or miscommunication. McDonald’s chose transcreation over direct translation when they took their tagline “I’m lovin’ it!” to China. This was because they were aware that the term “love” in China is not used casually. Instead, they chose a line that read as “I just like (it)”, thereby tapping in to and respecting the culture of their Chinese target market.

Ultimately, there are many service avenues that businesses can choose in taking their content to new countries, and it varies depending upon each business’ unique needs. However, it is evident to see that first-hand cultural knowledge is core to achieving a clear and effective line of communication.


Posted on: January 16th, 2015