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Transcreation: Good and bad tales of international marketing

Published on October 8th, 2021

Taking a brand global is a difficult task and language barriers aren’t the only issues you have to contend with. Cultural, political and all kinds of local factors influence the way audiences perceive your messages and, even once you get past the challenges of translation, every other aspect of your marketing campaign needs to be scrutinised.

Transcreation is a specialised language service that looks beyond the meaning of words and focuses on the impression you want to make with audiences. Done correctly, it maintains your creative control over brand image and marketing messages. Done poorly, or not at all, it leaves you vulnerable to making a very different impression than you had in mind – often with disastrous consequences.

Transcreation examples from major brands

Slogans are often the best examples of transcreation gone right/wrong as they rarely translate seamlessly into foreign languages. These instances, where your content loses its meaning via simple translation is where transcreation comes in, which focuses less on matching the exact meaning of the original text and more on getting the desired reaction from audiences.

These examples will demonstrate everything you need to know.

Not translating Nike’s famous ‘Just Do It’ slogan

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan is one of the most memorable and powerful taglines in modern times. However, the potent meaning of those three words will be lost in non-English speaking markets, the largest of which is China.

By the time Nike ramped up its marketing efforts in China, the slogan ‘Just Do It’ was already commonly associated with the brand, but most consumers had little comprehension of what it meant. At the same time, close translations lose the impact and inspiring meaning associated with the slogan.

NIKE 2016 Just Do It – The Next Wave TVC

So, instead of translating the slogan, Nike has stuck with the English version and produced a series of marketing campaigns over the years to communicate the intended meaning of those three crucial worlds. The company has carefully crafted Chinese language around the concept of its slogan and enhanced the emotional impact with a steady supply of powerful video marketing campaigns.

Haribo looks beyond the words with its unmistakable jingle

If you happen to spend a lot of time travelling around Europe and like to indulge in some local TV at each hotel, you will see plenty of examples of transcreation in action. One of the most impressive cases is Haribo, once you realise the Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo jingle is used in every market.

The words are different, the meanings are sometimes similar, but the unmistakable jingle is always there.

Some examples:

  • German: Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso (“Haribo makes children happy, and grown-ups too”)
  • Italian: Haribo è la bontà, che si gusta ad ogni età (“Haribo is the great thing that you can eat at any age”)
  • Spanish: Vive un sabor mágico, ven al mundo Haribo (“Experience a magical taste, come to the world of Haribo”)
  • Portuguese: Haribo doces sabores, para os pequenos e os maiores (“Haribo sweet flavours, for the little ones and the grown-ups”)

For Haribo, the specific meaning of the slogan is secondary, as you can see from the Spanish version. What’s more important is the sickly-sweet melody that refuses to leave your subconscious once it’s unpacked its bags.

How Dolce & Gabbana got it all wrong with this racist ad

Global fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana showed the world how not to produce a marketing campaign for China in 2019. The video ad was part of a #DGLovesChina campaign, but it resulted in ruining the career of a Chinese model, the brand’s products being pulled from shelves and shows cancelled due to the backlash.

The incident escalated further when designer Stefano Gabbana was accused of insulting China in screenshots of an alleged WhatsApp conversation. The result has been lasting damage to the brand’s image in China and the reputation of model Zuo Ye who starred in the ad.

It has also intensified scrutiny of Asian tokenism and stereotyping in advertising, which should act as a lesson for brands that want to enter foreign markets or maintain their brand image in existing ones.

Creative translation and adaptation

As you can see from the examples we have looked at in this article, translation alone isn’t enough to build and nurture a brand image in international markets. For campaigns to work on the global stage, you need a localised, creative translation process that looks beyond the meaning of source content and focuses on the impact your target content is going to have on audiences.

This is where effective transcreation makes the difference between successful marketing campaigns and embarrassing misfires – or worse.

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Posted on: October 8th, 2021