Transcreation: how it works and who needs it

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Imagine you work for months on a marketing campaign. You’re satisfied with the results, and you invest even more time and money in launching your product in another country. But then you find out your slogan means something offensive or ridiculous when translated into the target language. 

This is what happened with Pepsi’s tagline ‘Come alive with the Pepsi generation’. In Chinese, it was translated into ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’, which obviously didn’t go over well. 

This kind of mistake costs a lot of money to fix and can destroy a brand’s reputation. But, working with transcreation experts can help you avoid these awkward and costly situations.

What is transcreation?

If you’re wondering how to define transcreation, the most basic way is to call it creative translation. It involves changing written content from one language to another, like normal translation, but with a priority on overall meaning, sound, and goals rather than literal word-for-word translation. 

You might come across a different transcreation meaning or explanation, but the term usually refers to a general creative process that could even include changing colours, fonts, design and images to be more culturally appropriate and in line with the original content’s goals.

Real-life examples of transcreation


Take the slogan ‘Just do it’. Almost everyone knows the brand Nike. In English, these three simple words are powerful. They evoke a strong sense of encouragement and convey that the impossible is possible. 

When translated literally, however, this phrase doesn’t have the same punch in many other languages. It often sounds flat and meaningless or requires additional words to get the point across. 

Because of this complicated translation, Nike has used a range of nonliteral, creative translations – such as ‘Use sport’ and ‘Have sport’ – that have more impact in the target country. 

In some cases, they’ve decided not to translate their slogan at all and instead focus on other advertising aspects.


Another famous example is from Haribo. One of their original German jingles means ‘Haribo makes children happy, and adults too’, which evokes a pleasant emotion that everyone can relate to. 

In some languages, it’s easy to translate this phrase literally with only few words. In other languages, however, a direct translation requires longer phrases not suitable for advertising. 

So what did they do? They used a variety of transcreations, some more literal than others: ‘Haribo is a great treat to be enjoyed at any age’, ‘Haribo sweet flavours, for the little ones and the grown-ups’, and ‘Experience a magical taste, come to the world of Haribo’. 

What was more important for them, and ultimately very successful, was not maintaining the literal meaning but using text that fit the same melody that conveyed a similarly pleasing feeling. This is the magic of effective transcreation.


How does the transcreation process work?

When you work with transcreation experts, the first thing you have to do is explain your goals and intentions in depth. To provide good results, translators need to understand the emotion and image you want to get across. 

Perhaps you want to keep the same rhyme scheme. Or maybe using alliteration – the same sounds to start each word – is a key part of your message. Transcreation experts take these kinds of details into account. Puns, plays on words, literary techniques and colour schemes are all examples of factors that can heavily influence a brand’s message, so you should explain these features to your transcreation team.

During the next step, the team analyse your text and generate transcreations while considering your objectives, design features and the cultural and linguistic context. The creative translations they offer in the target language will then provide a similar impact and sensation as the original text.

The benefits of transcreation

Although transcreation might take longer or be more expensive than regular translation services, the benefits far outweigh the costs. 

Tailored content for specific cultures

The transcreation process does more than just help you avoid embarrassing mistranslations. Working with an expert transcreation team gives you content that resonates with your target audience in the right way. 

Consider Dove’s wildly successful Real Beauty campaign. For years, Dove used advertisements all over the world featuring women of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities to promote body positivity. However, the campaign did not gain traction in China. Dove eventually had to drop it and go in a new direction. 

Working with transcreation specialists can help you be aware of potential problems like this before launching, saving you a lot of time and money. 

Consistency across locations

As in the Haribo example above, transcreation can help you maintain certain aspects of your content across cultures, even if the words are a bit different. 

Whether your priority is using the same jingle worldwide or evoking similar emotions across cultures, the transcreation process helps you spread a recognisable message with a consistent style.

Maximised impact

Although you probably know a lot about your different market audiences, it’s impossible to know all the nuances that could affect perception among different groups. 

Transcreation involves experts who not only specialise in the target language but also have deep knowledge of the audience’s culture and background. 

They can comment on ways to maximise a brand’s message in the target region, such as Red Bull using red and gold in Asian countries rather than red, blue and silver. What are seemingly small details can have enormous impact on sales and perception.


Do you need transcreation?

Transcreation is especially important for marketing and advertising across different languages and cultures. 

When you want to persuade an audience or connect with people emotionally – think ‘Taste the rainbow’ or ‘Open happiness’ – you need translators who understand not just the language but marketing practices and the cultural and linguistic impact. 

The following types of text often go through the transcreation process:

  • slogans, jingles and taglines
  • product names and design
  • catalogues
  • press releases
  • websites 
  • social media content
  • text with idioms or jokes


If you’re looking to internationalise your business or reach global audiences, using transcreation to adapt your content for each particular country, region and language can boost your profits, image and reputation.  

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