Oct 16

Did you really mean transcreation?

Transcreation is one of the latest hypes in the translation industry. More and more translation companies are adding it to their list of offerings. But is it really transcreation that they are offering, or is this an example of old wine in new bottles?


Quite a sizeable part of the content handled by translation companies has been created with only one goal in mind: sell! Sell a product, a brand, a company.

Sometimes that sales goal is perfectly clear, like in standard advertisements. In others, like press releases, product specifications or case studies, it is more or less subtly mixed with descriptive and even technically specialized content.

In the past, translation companies usually called this type of work marcom translations, adaptation or creative translation. In recent days, those names have gone out of fashion, and are replaced by the new kid on the block "transcreation".

New indeed, because the term was coined in the '60s to describe the translation of creative ad copy. A much narrower scope than the generic marcom translation that it seems to be covering today.

So what are the differences between both scopes, and why should we bother?

Marcom translation is in essence not that different from generic translation. Readability and fitness for purpose, adaptation to the target audience are playing a more important role, certainly, but the so-called content equivalence remains equally important: target content must equal source content.

Not necessarily so in the original meaning of transcreation. There, actual content comes second, or even third, after purpose and emotion. Transcreated content is supposed to serve the same purpose as the original, and convey the same emotion. That means that the translator needs to receive the same briefing and level of liberty as the communication agency that created the original content.

If the message, the central concept or the images of the campaign were created with only the home market in mind, they may have to be changed in order to obtain the same impact in the target market. Unfortunately, practical and financial considerations often get in the way.

Many European marketing departments receive their campaigns from their corporate HQ, usually in the US. They are requested to transcreate it for the various European markets, but to keep the same key messages and images of the original, because changing illustrations, recording new videos and such would be too expensive. And whereas creating the campaign has taken several months, and several concepts may have been rejected before the current one chosen, translators and translaton companies typically have to deliver the transcreated version within a few days and taking into account all the practical limitations.

It is not surprising that such requests often result in frustration for the translator and translation company, and disappointment for the buyer. What started off as a transcreation request was doomed to end in a marcom translation deliverable.

Buyers need to be made aware of the restrictions that marcom translators and transcreators have to deal with. Expectations need to be set from the start and the boundaries of the restrictions need to be described in detail (the so-called creative brief).

If those two criteria are not met, it is highly unlikely that the customer wil be even half-way satisfied. And it may not be long before the translation company removes the transcreation offering from its website again.