With the countless advances in technology, social media, and business practices, it can be hard to keep track of all of the new terms and concepts that are born every day. Translation has been around for a while now, and localization seems to have caught on pretty well, but transcreation is something that not a lot of people know about.

‘Transcreation’ is a relatively new term and its precise meaning is still being defined. Probably, transcreation was first used thousands of years ago, as sacred, historical and classic writings have been creatively adapted in order to be read in several languages. However, the word became more popular in the 1960s, when advertising agencies used it to describe the translation of creative advertising copy. The word ‘transcreation’ was even registered as a trademark in 2000 by a UK company, but this expired in 2010.

It is thought to have originated in the computer and video game industry, as companies in this field struggled to take games from one market to several. Manufacturers found that translating only the words (written and spoken) used in the games was not sufficient to satisfy the majority of users in the targeted markets. To make the games more enjoyable and relevant to users in different cultures, the makers began to tailor images and modify story lines to match the culture and expectations of those users.

Etymologically, ‘transcreation’ is an amalgamation of the words ‘translation’ and ‘creation’. It has no formal definition and has not yet been accepted by Oxford Dictionaries. The purpose of transcreation is to carry the intent, style, and tone of a message across cultural barriers, while maintaining the emotional reaction it creates. For this purpose, it goes beyond just translating linguistic messages – visual ones must often be translated too.

‘Transcreation’ is now a mainstream term in the advertising and translation community, being applied to marketing and advertising content that must be adapted to local markets in order to deliver the same impact as the original. It may be applied either to adapt a translation or to completely rewrite content in the local language to reflect the original message. Most often, transcreation is a hybrid of new content, adapted content and images, and simple translation. There are several terms used to convey the same concept, such as “marketing translation”, “marketization”, “cultural adaptation”, “multilingual copywriting”, “copy adaptation”, “international copy”, “adaptation of marketing materials”, “creative international marketing”.

Typical projects requiring transcreation include slogans, advertising campaigns designed to attract customers in a specific market, website content, apps and games, advertisements that are based on humor directly related to just one language or culture, or products and services that need to be marketed to diverse demographics within the same market. It is, simply put, translating, while localizing at the same time. It is about taking a concept in one language and completely recreating it in another language.

People performing this service are highly creative linguists and translators: senior, experienced fellows creating a deliverable that evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language. In addition to creativity, a transcreator should also have excellent knowledge of both the source language and the target language, thorough knowledge of cultural backgrounds and ought to be familiar with the product being advertised.

One of the most widely known examples of transcreation is the Spiderman comic in India. As producers realized that the American Spiderman was in no way a fit for the Indian market, they recreated it into an Indian boy named Pavitr Prabhakar. All elements of the original narration were recreated and replaced to offer it an Indian context. Even Spiderman’s suit was altered: wearing a dhoti, he fights the demon Rahshasa against backdrops such as the Taj Mahal. This is how transcreation brought Spiderman to life for the Indian market.

Another example of transcreation improving a marketing slogan is Procter & Gamble’s 1999 campaign in Italy for their Swiffer dusting products. The original English phrase was: When Swiffer’s the one, consider it done. A direct Italian translation would have ruined the flow, and so they came up with the following: La polvere non dura, perché Swiffer la cattura. (‘The dust doesn’t linger, because Swiffer catches it.’) This solution not only creates a different rhyme and metre, but it mentions the benefit – eliminating dust – and the way it does this – by catching it – whereas the English original mentions neither of the two elements. This is widely regarded as one of the best ever examples of creative slogan translation.

There is no better way to end a discussion on transcreation or creative translation than with the translation into English of Asterix comics. Since many of the names of the characters could not be translated, they have been recreated. For instance, the pet dog of Obelix, Idéfix, a play on the French phrase idée fixe, which means stubbornness, became Dogmatix, which is a delightful translation, since the character is a dog and he is also dogmatic. Another translation that hit the nail was that of the name of the insalubrious fishmonger Ordralfabétix, a wordplay on ordre and alphabétique, who became Unhygienix.


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