Transcreation, localization and content marketing

As products mature and customers become increasingly sophisticated in their buying habits, companies must continually strive to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. In addition, marketing materials are particularly challenging to localize because marketing depends on cultural context, nuance and the wordplay used to catch the customer’s interest. All of these things make it difficult to achieve quality localization — the process of taking a product or service and then reviewing and modifying it so that it’s acceptable to a particular locale. Some companies are turning to transcreation to help their products stand out and to achieve greater local appeal.

Transcreation goes beyond localization to actually re-creating the content for a specific market. In transcreation, the concepts, feelings and calls to action that are expressed in the source material are maintained in the target material, but the emphasis, design and the text are oriented specifically to the target culture. While there are some gray areas (for example, regulatory information), transcreation goes much deeper than localization typically does, and consequently, incurs significantly higher costs.

The transcreation specialist takes the source content information and then develops equivalent content for the target market. For example, a marketing campaign in the United States will typically show a mix of genders and races that represent at least some of the many ethnicities and cultures present in that country. For a more homogenous society, however, the people shown will represent the culture being targeted. Also, the slogans or feature emphasis will also be different to reflect cultural values and wordplay.

In their 2010 research report, “Reaching New Markets through Transcreation,” Common Sense Advisory used the example of the US English and US Spanish versions of an advertisement for Mirena, a birth control device. In the English version, the product website focuses on convenience and uses the slogan Keep life simple, whereas in the Spanish version, the focus is on choice and safety in order to alleviate fears of future infertility, and the slogan is Es tu vida. Es tu opcion. (It’s your life. It’s your choice.)

In addition to creative content, regulatory information is sometimes transcreated to reflect the requirements of the target country. For example, the warranty requirements might be completely different from one country to another. In this case, it makes more sense to create the regulatory information directly in the target languages than to start from English and translate it because the actual content needs to be different for each country. While the line between localization and transcreation can get blurry, particularly with technical content, there are several distinctions between them.



• Modifies the source to accommodate culture and language

• Leverages translation memory and allows for reuse

• Creates a culturally adapted version that does not necessarily match the source

• Creates a culturally adapted version that does not necessarily match the source

• Applies primarily to marketing and advertising materials

• Does not easily leverage translation memory or encourage reuse

To help illustrate these differences, my graphic designer, Kayla Brown, created fake ads in English and Spanish (Figures 1 and 2).

These differences are also represented by comparing the cost of a standard localization job to transcreation. Transcreation costs are frequently more than double the cost for localization of the same content, and unlike translation jobs, are estimated by the hour, not by the word. In The Little Book of Transcreation published in 2011, authors Louise Humphrey, Amy Somers, James Bradley and Guy Gilpin give the example of a 100-word press ad from English to Japanese. To translate the ad would cost about £75, or a bit more if the graphic needed to be tweaked as well. To transcreate it would be about £200. However, the cost of placing the ad in a leading Japanese newspaper is £100,000. In this example, the risk of not transcreating could be significantly higher than the added expense of transcreating the ad for a Japanese audience.


Deciding when to transcreate

When it’s done well, transcreation preserves the global branding and intent of the source content, while captivating the target audience with well-written content that feels local. Done poorly, transcreation can damage your global brand and cause embarrassment for the company. So, how do you decide when to transcreate versus localize?

Renatto Beninatto, chief marketing officer for Moravia, suggested several criteria in his webinar, “Transcreation: How to Get it Right”:

When highly creative campaigns contain a lot of word play that would make straight localization difficult

When products are used differently or perceived differently in the target region

When straight translation results in an unintended meaning or a rude connotation in the target language, or when the rhyming, meter or word selection result in awkward-sounding content in the target language

When using humor

When culturally specific information is needed to conceptualize the information

When the consequences of not transcreating are higher than the cost of doing it

On the other hand, highly technical content that doesn’t contain a lot of culturally specific information doesn’t usually need to be transcreated. This type of content is, by its nature, less culturally specific and more universally understood by the audience than the creative metaphors and wordplays used in marketing.


Implications for content marketing

Transcreation gives content marketers another tool with which to reach their global audience. However, the cost of doing it must be included in the project budget and content marketers must give careful thought to when it is appropriate. If the content in question meets the criteria for transcreation, then the content marketer must also have guidelines for how to create, manage, and use the transcreated content. Decide at the beginning of a project which elements need to be transcreated, if any. Use a vendor that can estimate and manage the transcreation effort in multiple languages, and plan plenty of time in the project schedule for the transcreation tasks.

Set up a database to track preferred transcreations for a particular metaphor, wordplay, or concept. Always use the same transcreation to illustrate a concept, though in some cases, you might have to forego the word play. For example, the equivalent of once in a blue moon in Italian is ogni morti di Papa (as often as the Pope dies), which is probably not something you want to use in advertising. However, you can work with your Italian transcreation team to come up with a clever ad that uses the concept of “happens very rarely” and communicates it in a way that is appropriate to an Italian audience. Particularly for personal care, clothing, home use and other items, such transcreation can help companies connect more effectively with their local customers.

Give careful thought to the creative brief and include this information in the package you give the vendor. It should contain at least the following information:

Brief description of the concept and how it fits with your global brand

Explanation of the feelings you want to evoke

Description of the action you want the customer to take after viewing the ad

Context in which your customer will make decisions about your product or service, and the context in which the ad will appear, such as a magazine or a billboard.

Meaning of any wordplays used and an explanation of how those wordplays interact with the graphical elements

Any requirements/restrictions on the size, shape, colors of the piece and the graphical elements within the piece

Additionally, actively seek ways to maximize reuse and ensure the integrity of your global brand. Consider global usability testing to verify that your assumptions about your target audience are correct, and measure the return on investment (ROI) of the transcreation effort.

These suggestions are by no means complete, but they should at least allow you to begin thinking and planning for transcreation. As the methodology for doing transcreation matures, it is likely that the tools to support this activity will also improve. Work closely with your vendor to monitor advances and to manage your processes.

Transcreation goes much deeper than localization and is a useful method for companies to distinguish themselves in a particular market. Transcreation helps companies to ensure that the meaning and context are reaching the target audience. However, it should be used thoughtfully and managed carefully to control costs — expected ROI should be identified and measured.


Thanks to:

Kayla Brown for the graphic design. Brown is a recent graduate from Tidewater Community College with a degree in graphic design: advertisement.

Hilda Trigoso for the Spanish translation. Trigoso is a professional translator, originally from Peru, who lives in Denver. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Rowell Photography and Gary Blake for the English ad photos.

The Polka Dot Cottage Photography and Cococozy for the Spanish ad photos.