Transcreating – Thinking global, acting local

Those of us involved in the translation industry have had to embrace technological advancements in our field, and generally in the world around us, for quite some time now. Not only in relation to the way we work and the technologies we need to use to research and deliver our final products, but also in relation to the way we seek employment, the way we deal with our potential clients as well as the type of work we do and the fields of expertise we are made to engage with. It’s a case of adapt or perish.

In our case, we are generally forced to adapt once others have reacted to specific changes. Multinationals, publishing houses, localisation agencies and other players in the game, take a step to ensure their survival and we have no choice but to adapt to their changes. Consequently, translators today no longer translate the old fashion way, we also localise, we proofread for others, we have become experts in a wide range of CAT tools, and, interestingly as well, we transcreate. We translate and we recreate.

Triptychs of Strangers #20, The Analog Lover - London

Translation and recreation = Transcreation

I’m going to be extremely simplistic about this process but I want to quickly highlight how was it that transcreation became a necessity for most of us.

When it comes to companies making a decision to expand overseas, generally, at least in the earlier days, they had to opt for a standardisation all of their products and services and embrace a single marketing strategy for all countries, or on the other hand, they have to consider each local market independently and create a marketing mix and a series of strategies and campaigns designed to fit each and every one of their unique characteristics. It generally comes down to either a standardisation of products and documentation to save costs or a market adaptation to tailor to the cultural needs of each market. As I argued in an earlier post, most companies, in the end, tend to opt for an adaptation to cultural and other differences to avoid alienating customers.

Although it is often argued that with globalisation the international market has become too homogenised and that multinational companies can market their products and services the same all over the world by using identical strategies, the truth is that people in different countries speak different languages and abide by different rules and regulations. There are different economic conditions, political stability, customs, aesthetics, legal systems. There are far too many aspects to throw everyone in a single basket and hope that the message that is delivered and the way it’s delivered will make sense for everyone on this planet.

Having recognised diversity as a key element in their marketing programs and budgets, companies needed to find an effective way to persuade people in multiple cultures to buy their product or service. And after repeated cross-cultural marketing blunders, they finally realised that is not enough to be aware of the diversity of their markets, it is also essential to get the message they intended to convey delivered professionally. Copy is key in translating marketing messaging and a review of the marketing material by a native speaker just want fit the bill any more. Markets have become far too sophisticated and companies and advertisers need to look towards bilingual professionals who have a complete mastery of the intricacies of at least two languages to deliver the nuances they planned on delivering originally in English: “Think global; act local”.
So, enter the former translator (with a flavour for creative writing), now transcreator, trying to balance the demands imposed by having to promote a brand that is recognised around the world, while tailoring an advertising message for a specific local market. Not an easy task. He or she will be charged with creating a promotional text based on the English (in most cases) original, in a way that brings the intended emotions to life, intriguing audiences, luring them and, ultimately, prompting them to buy into the concept. Copywriting, you ask? Yes, that’s right.

Transcreation = Copywriting?
So, wouldn’t it be easier for a company to merely hire a copywriter/s in the target country who can produce the text from scratch? Well, most clients will want the ‘feel’ of the original text to be maintained, which requires someone who has an intimate knowledge of the source language – they will have to understand why the message works and produce something that is localised for the target language.

The difference here is that the transcreator does not really have to transfer the meaning from a source text to a target text. No, the transcreator is scavenging for identical reactions and emotions as in the source language. And yes, lots of you would have already rolled your eyes and argued that a good translation should always try to reflect these aspects of the source text. And I agree (to an extent, of course, because some types of texts, like technical texts will usually not contain many emotions and cultural references). Transcreators dig for identical reactions derived not only from the message, but from the style, the cultural nuances, games of words, sense of humour, images, metaphors.

Marketing and advertising copy often contain puns or references to imagery used specifically by the particular company the transcreator is working for. Generally companies will have a unique Tone of Voice to adhere to, a specific way to communicate with customers, which can go from casual, to mentoring, to instructional, to masculine, etc. And they will also want you to convey your message taking into consideration demographic differences and target groups, not just consumers, but also other external stakeholders and resellers and stakeholders.

So, if you still want to go ahead and add the title of transcreator to your CV, you need to be creative and possess a superior knowledge of both the source and target languages and their respective cultural backgrounds. Learn to love the product you write about and write about it enthusiastically. Transcreators are also expected to provide cultural advice: they should tell the end client when a specific translation or image does not work for the target audience.

And also, importantly, don’t forget that the advertising world needs your brochure transcreated by yesterday, in two or three different versions and with a back translation to help the end client understand the options you have provided. If that fast-paced working environment is your thing, then, welcome to the world of transcreation.

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7 thoughts on “Transcreating – Thinking global, acting local

  1. Looks like auto translators won’t be able to compete for a while still… Or ever! Also, very cool pic :)

    • That’s right Ari, that’s what I think too, but the days might be getting closer than what we think! Glad you like the site and the pictures, it’s very generous of photographers in Flickr to let the world share them around. Try the site, it’s got some really good stuff! Thanks for visiting!

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