Transcreation and the great translation upsell conspiracy…

If you’re in marketing, you’ve probably heard of transcreation. It’s been around for a long time under different names and descriptions, but it’s been hyped to the max in the last couple of years.

I thought it was about time we dug into what it is, when you might need it, and more importantly perhaps – when you don’t need it.

Transcreation sits within the same territory as translation but is often positioned as a superior option for marketing material and similar texts. But first we must quickly define the two terms:

Translation is the process of translating words or text from one language into another. Good translations intended for wide publication and corporate use will rarely be translated word for word, as an experienced linguist will make subtle adaptations along the way to ensure tone and meaning are retained, whilst always remaining faithful to the original.

Transcreation can be broadly defined as the recreation and translation of written material from one language into another whilst maintaining the style and intent of the original. In the case of true transcreation, this often means the original source text is used only as a brief or guideline to enable a native-speaker of the target language to re-write the piece entirely in the second language. The linguist carrying out this work will be both a creative copywriter, and a translator. The completed transcreation will share the same intent and achieve the same objectives as the original but is likely to bear little similarity in its structure and style.

Due to the very specific skills required of a transcreation specialist, and their relative rarity, transcreation will always be significantly more expensive than translation. Transcreation will (and should) cost you a lot more than even the very best marketing translation.

And here lies the problem. The hype surrounding transcreation has convinced marketers that they all require transcreation, rather than translation. On the back of this, many less ethical translation companies have jumped on the hype train to sell what they refer to as transcreation to unsuspecting marketing buyers at an inflated price. Sadly, what they often provide is distinctly average marketing translation at best.

What’s sometimes even more disturbing is that most marketers really don’t need their content to be transcreated – at least not ‘true’ transcreation. Most marketing content can be translated very effectively for maximum acceptance in the target country by simply using an experienced and proven marketing translator who is used to translating this type of content.
The bottom line is that you probably don’t need transcreation.

Having said that, true transcreation is needed, valid and justified in certain situations. For example, if your content contains themes and concepts that either do not have an equivalent in the target language or are not recognised in the culture of the target market, there will be a valid case for transcreation. A good example would be a creative advertising campaign, or a creative literary project.

Your product brochure and web content will rarely need to be transcreated to meet its objectives in your target market. What it will need is to be translated well, by a skilled linguist with a lot of quality marketing translation experience under his or her belt. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is the problem with some unscrupulous translation companies – they’ll try and sell you what they have branded as transcreation, and they’ll tell you that you need it. In the worst cases you’ll probably just get an OK marketing translation back that’s slightly better than their standard low-quality translation. In the very best case you’ll get a piece of transcreated copy back that you commissioned and paid for without really needing it. Oh, and you’ll have waited an extra week for it too.

I’d go as far as to say that in 90% of cases you need nothing more than good marketing translation. And that’s what we provide. As standard.

We provide true transcreation too, where it’s needed – but we’ll always be open and honest when we think you may be asking for something that you may not need and make clear that an equally effective option may cost you significantly less.

The moral of this story is that believing hype can be costly and add no additional value to your global marketing output. In the right hands, and with the right content, transcreation can be the difference between your campaign succeeding or failing. But think about whether you actually need it, and who you trust to help you make this decision, before you commission and pay for it.