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What is transcreation and what is it eaten with?

Transcreation: the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. The phrase has historically been used by advertising and marketing professionals seeking to transfer the meaning of a message to a new language without losing the intended meaning.

Tales of Transcreation

To date, little progress has been made on proposals for the creation of a Schengen space for jokes and even less with transcreation. The sad reality is that they, along with idioms and cultural references, are nefarious travelers. Let's get to the crux of the matter, how can we make our content resonate across cultures? Well, here is the noble art of transcreation.

what is transcreation
But what is transcreation?

1) The History of Transcreation

Transcreation has a tradition going back millennia and, say in the scholarly figure of Jerome, has its own patron saint. What is transcreation rarely appears in official dictionaries, and its first recorded use, at one point, occurred in the business parlance of the 1960s. It is fair to assume that whatever this mysterious thing is, it is an offshoot of translation and its associated professions.

It is a term that was almost certainly not coined by actual translators. It was first used with reference to the translation of creative advertising copy. By the 1990s it had been fully adopted into advertising agency jargon to distinguish it from “normal” translation services. “Creative translation” would then be the implication that it is a value-added translation. At least within this world, it has become a conventional term.

In some ways, the history of the term is less significant than the concept itself, which already seems universally recognized and timeless. Take this verse from the most florid language of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), whose final line sums up the concept.

"It was so wise to throw a violet into a crucible

to discover the formal principle of its color and smell,

Like trying to transfuse a poet's creations from one language to another.

The plant must sprout again from its seed, or it will be no flower at all. A new word, an old idea.

To summarize and simplify: ideas and feelings get lost in translation, and people have known this forever. To overcome this problem, you must create something new instead.


2) Meanings of Transcreation

The pseudonyms for transcreation are revealing: “creative translation”, “international adaptation of texts” and “free-style translation” make the picture clearer.

The purpose of transcreation is to carry the intent, style and tone of a message across cultural barriers, paying special attention to maintaining the emotional reaction that the initial message had. Because of this fact, it goes beyond the mere translation of linguistic messages, as visual “messages” often must also be “translated”.

Much of basic translation theory is expressed in terms of the opposition between metaphrase (literal or word-for-word translations) and paraphrase (recasting the same idea in a different form). People are often trained not to translate too freely, clinging to literal translation. But in many cases that freedom is the only opportunity to make the content sound natural in translation.

It is really about the details contained in the mission report. There are projects where a “poker-faced” translation, i.e. hiding the emotions, is the only way to convey details in an efficient literal way. And there are other projects where the spark and atmosphere of the text must be maintained at all costs. What is certain is that, with transcreation, fidelity to the text is always secondary to obtaining the same reaction.

The reality is that most translation work is quite prosaic in content. Demand dictates the jobs translators must do, so instead of doing slow Russian translations of Pushkin's poetry into different dialects, translators are more likely to spend their time wrestling with hydraulics manuals and kitchen appliance brochures.

The jobs that typically require transcreation are those that are designed to leave an emotional mark or spur people to action. Examples include web campaigns in new countries, ads designed around humor and puns, and products intended to appeal to different demographics within the same market.

The key to transcreation work is the mission statement. There must be a clear vision of what identity and message to convey. It is much better to start with a specific brand promise and then work with an evocative tagline than to translate the original tagline and hope it matches your brand identity.

about transcreation

3) Neglecting transcreation

The value of transcreation to your business becomes obvious when you take a look at the Hall of Shame of companies that chose not to care about the cultural sensitivities of their target market. Puma experienced the pitfalls of failure to adapt when they launched a shoe in 2011 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates.

The product provoked a furious reaction. Putting the country's flag on the shoe was perceived as trivial and disrespectful, as the shoes touch the feet and the ground, so they are considered very dirty in that culture. If you want to build brand loyalty, it is highly advisable not to disgrace the symbol of your nation.

But transcreation clearly goes beyond language. Even a carefully worded campaign can fail when the images are not examined for their cultural sensitivity. For example, in the 1970s, Pampers Nappies had a successful campaign that used the image of the stork. In Western cultures, there is a strong association because of the legend that the stork delivers babies for their future parents. However, when launched in Japan, the company tried to use the same recipe, and was met with a bewildered Japanese public rather than commercial success. Some market research by some good transcreators might have saved them: there is an analogous Japanese legend in which babies are delivered to their parents in giant peaches that are carried down rivers and streams. This slight modification to the imagery would have cost little and would have resonated greatly with consumers who appreciate the cultural effort of the Pampers Nappies folks. They would have reaped the benefits without the embarrassment of rebranding.

examples of transcreation

4) Examples of incredible Transcreation failures

Is blind negligence worse than making a concerted effort and still screwing up? Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn't know the value of carefully crafted variations in international advertising campaigns. Yet frighteningly unpleasant mistakes continue to be made. Starting with the 2005 smartphone-stoneage, we introduced the Motorola Q.

Motorola knew the importance of a good slogan, so when it was launched in French Canada, they tried to invest wisely. The results were the catchy rhyme 'C'est important pour vous, c'est important pour votre Q.' ('It's important to you, it's important to your Q.') and the bold proclamation 'My Q. Renewed intelligence' ('My intelligence Q. renewed').

This was all fine and dandy until a real French speaker heard them. It turned out that the pronunciation of the letter “Q” in French sounded too much like a rude word meaning “bottom.” Substitute that (or any synonym you like) for the slogans above, and imagine what happened.

Likewise, advertisers can sometimes be overzealous to cut and change when leaving something as it was would be better. German automaker Volkswagen would be the tip of the iceberg after its rigged emissions scandal, but this story shows that they are no strangers to public relations disasters either.

VW uses its slogan “Das Auto” in many countries, maintaining the foreign language element that plays successfully to Germany's reputation for quality manufacturing.

But in reality, the VW Beetle was for many decades made in Brazil. Brazilians quite liked its status in their country, to the point that it was considered an 'honorary Brazilian'. It had a long-standing Portuguese slogan that reflected this: 'Você conhece, Você confia' ('You (know it, you (trust it)').

Volkswagen changed its strategy by trying to replicate the success they had had in other markets with 'Das Auto'. But by emphasizing the foreign design of the car in Brazil, it proved to be “pretentious” and damaged the bond of recognition and acceptance that the company had enjoyed for so long.

As always, the only option was an awkward retraction of the slogan. Interestingly, the German line continues to be well received elsewhere, as in a new Russian campaign, which shows how much good transcreation depends on thorough market research and repeated trials, failures and tests.

good examples of transcreation

5) Examples of transcreation successes

Copies of a foreign origin need not seem strange to the reading public. For example one of the most recognizable jingles attached to any product is Haribo's “Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo.” It's somewhat annoying, but it also resonates. It tells you how broad its appeal is. It rhymes. It sticks in your head mercilessly. It's a good slogan. But this is not, in fact, an originally English phrase. It's just a spectacular translation of the original German jingle.

Taking the phrase and translating the tone of the message along with the rhyme, meter and cadence is a rare skill. It is the jackpot of translation.

However, with transcreation, fidelity is not the priority. Therefore, at best, it is not only about perfect preservation, but also about improving on the original. A transcreation report provides the freedom to do this.

An example of the transcreation that improves a marketing slogan is the Proctor & Gamble campaign in Italy in 1999 for its Swiffer cleaning products. The original English phrase was “When Swiffer's the one, consider it done”. A direct translation into Italian would have ruined the flow, so they came up with “La polvere non dura, perché Swiffer la cattura” (“The dust doesn't stay, because Swiffer catches it.”). This solution not only creates a different rhyme and meter, but also mentions the benefit of removing dust and the way it does so - by trapping it - whereas the English original does not mention either of these two elements. This is widely regarded as one of the best examples of creative slogan translation.

But there is no better example to end a discussion on creative translation than with the English translations of the Asterix comics. Many might object and say that this is translation pure and simple. When Anthea Bell was translating all the puns and nuances within those lines, she certainly wasn't thinking “I'm transcreating.” The difference is academic, but few other examples capture the joyful spirit of creative translations that enhance the originals.

The names of all the characters are puns, many of which cannot be translated, but can be recreated. The English versions that Bell created were often cleverer than the French names. For example, the out-of-hearing village bard was originally Assurancetourix, a play on “assurance tous risques” (full insurance) and “full coverage insurance” (full coverage insurance). In English, it became Cacofonix, a pun on “cacophony”. The unhealthy fishmonger was Ordralfabétix, who played in 'ordrealphabétique'. He became Unhygienix. In French it sounds very original because it is funny and absurd. The English names actually reflect the character traits of the characters, and make the cast much more vivid.

The translation of other names has hit the nail on the head in the most perfect way imaginable. The main character Obelix's cantankerous pet dog was called Idéfix, a play on the French phrase 'une idée fixe', meaning a stubborn obsession. It became Dogmatix, which is a delightful translation, since Idéfix is actually a dog, and is also somewhat dogmatic.

Sometimes translations hint at new nuances in the story that might have been absent in the original, which is a liberty that a less experienced translator might not have noticed. The village druid who distributes the mysterious magic potion that allows a few Gallic villagers to keep the mighty Roman Empire at bay is called Panoramix in French. This is just a light-hearted play on the word panorama. Bell's masterstroke was to call it Getafix, thus suggesting that the bearded old man who allowed the Gauls to fend for themselves was up to something a little more brazen with his “potion.”

When given free artistic license, the linguists you hire may be capable of amazing feats. This creative intelligence can transform the fortunes of your company's overseas marketing campaigns. Think globally and act locally; transcreation services can spread your brand identity in exactly the way you want.

Translation is a process (almost like a dialectic) that creates transnational social links and spaces, revalues ​​local cultures and brings third cultures to the foreground, it is a process to avoid contradictions, misunderstandings and sometimes even conflicts of a varied nature.