What is Transcreation?

Languages are not static, they are fluid and constantly developing, just like the cultures they belong to. The world changes, and so do languages; new words are being created every day, allowing us to talk about new things, concepts and ideas such as those introduced by technological progress. (If you want to learn some of the latest English words that have been created, check out our article concerning 10 English Words You Might Not Know!). It therefore follows that translation, too, is an industry that is continuously evolving, as a result of changes occurring in languages as well as in the world in general.

In this article, we will look at one of the latest developments in the translation industry, one we take pride in championing through much of our work at Creative: transcreation. The word “transcreation” started being used in the late 20th century in the marketing and advertising industries, and gained more and more popularity until it became a standard term in the language and translation industry in the 21st century. The two components of this word – “trans”, from the Latin preposition meaning “across, beyond”, and “creation” – already give away the true meaning and significance of this process.

Interestingly enough, the word does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary; however, any good language professional is familiar with the term and nowadays transcreation is one of the most widespread translation techniques, especially in the field of marketing and advertising translation. Big companies and brands are starting to appreciate its importance and the impact a good (or bad) transcreation can have on the successful launch of a product in a new country and in a new language. This article is our little contribution to ensuring transcreation is taken seriously. Read on to find out more about transcreation and its relevance to the marketing and advertising industries.


Message vs. Words

The idea behind transcreation is to be able to translate and adapt a concept, wordplay, pun, etc. from one language into another without losing any of the freshness, effect and power found in the original source text/line. While this is a result any translation strives to achieve, the need for an impactful message becomes particularly compelling when we are dealing with marketing and advertising copy.

By default, an ad or a strap line are aimed at attracting the reader’s attention and, as a consequence, persuading them to purchase the product advertised. To do so, the copywriter who creates the text makes use of several linguistic devices, such as alliteration, repetition, metaphors, etc., to ensure that the line/copy in question is catchy and memorable. So far, so good. When it comes to translation, however, the pitfall that many fail to see is the difference between languages, and as a result the fact that the linguistic devices used by the copywriter will not necessarily work when translated.

This is the main reason why the key aspect of transcreation is the focus on meaning rather than words. What is expected of a transcreator is the ability to understand the message conveyed in the source language, to analyse the techniques used to achieve the impact of the message, and to work on transposing this message for their market to achieve an equivalent impact. It is almost as if a transcreator’s job was to read the text/headline and then… forget it!

The word “equivalent” is crucial here, as the transcreator will never use the “same” words as the source copy, but rather words that are “equivalent” in their form and effect in the target language (unless of course the same words work too, which is generally very rare!).


Cultural References  

Another factor that determines the direction taken by the transcreation process is the presence of any cultural references in the source copy. Culture and language are deeply intertwined and continuously influence each other. Therefore, the language of advertising often contains references to people, objects or sentiments that are iconic or typical of the culture of the target audience, allowing readers to identify with and see themselves in the situation or scenario presented by the ad. When the message is merely translated into another language, such cultural references often get lost in translation and the ad fails to reach fruition in the new audience.

With transcreation, on the other hand, those references can be adapted instead of lost. When working on a transcreation project, linguists think not only about the message but also about the way it is delivered. For example, a warm and emotional tone may be perceived as the norm in some cultures, but may come across as over-the-top or fake in others. Here the transcreator’s job is to pinpoint the sentiment of the source text and recreate the most appropriate equivalent in the target language. Only a native speaker of the target language who is immersed in the target culture (which is exactly what we have here at Creative!) will be able to adhere to the customary advertising and marketing practices of the target market.



While it is often neglected, context also plays a defining role in guiding the transcreator in the right direction. When working on a transcreation project for an ad here at Creative, we always make sure to ask the client as many questions as possible about the bigger picture into which the ad fits. What campaign does this ad belong to? What is the feel of the campaign, and its purpose? Is this message going to be printed, or broadcast? And what type of imagery will accompany the message?

Ignoring these questions risks creating a message that may be beautiful and powerful in the target language, but that does not fit with the bigger picture at all. We have seen this mistake being made too many times in the world of advertising, with costly campaigns resulting in brands’ images being damaged.


In short, transcreation is translation taken a step further; it is the process whereby the writer combines their linguistic and creative abilities harmoniously and seamlessly to produce a natural and meaningful message that does not sound translated at all. Many mistake transcreation for copywriting. These two techniques, while somewhat related, differ in the fact that copywriting starts from only a brief, while transcreation relies on a source text as well as a brief.

Here at Creative, we work with expert writers specialised in advertising and marketing techniques in their native language, so if you are in need of professional transcreation services, give us a call on +44 (0)207 294 7710 or send us an email to info@creativetranslation.com and we will be happy to help!