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Transcreation – A Marketer’s Dream

In 1963, Pepsi ran a marketing campaign that you may well recognise. Its slogan was “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation” and sought to convince young people that Pepsi was the drink that typified people of their age group. Ultimately, it proved successful across the world and changed the way people viewed the brand, but not without a few pitfalls on the way.

Due to a fault in translation, Chinese audiences were shocked when instead of understanding what an English speaker would with the original version, the translation of the catchphrase literally translated to “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the grave”. Hilarious as it is true, many of the Chinese audience were confused and bemused as to what magical ingredients had been put into the famous soft drink to wield such astonishing powers.

We call this an error in Transcreation.

What is Transcreation?

Any speaker of more than one language can tell you that there isn’t a direct translation for every word or phrase between two languages, and there are a few factors that should always be considered when attempting to transcreate a text, such as paying attention to word usage, puns, idioms and slogans. Pepsi clearly got the latter wrong when they thought “Come Alive” would translate into any language. Another example might be when KFC concerned Chinese consumers slightly when “finger licking good” was translated as “eat your fingers off”!

Cultural and social differences are extremely important too. A brand of baby food was once marketed in Ethiopia with a picture of a baby on the front of the packet. Although perfectly innocuous at first glance, they had not taken into account that the country only has a 39% literacy rate and thus images of food contents are often printed on the front of packaging for convenience. Needless to say the baby food was not well received.

Ultimately, Transcreation done right is when the translator clearly has a full understanding not just of the language, but of the culture entwined with this language. A Spanish text for example might be received different in Spain in comparison to Peru. Products marketed as a luxury in one country may be a household staple in another, and therefore the translations need to be amended and tweaked in order to convey the appropriate message to the target audience. Socio-linguistic cues, cultural norms and habits of a particular populous may be wildly different from those of the original source language, and it is thus important to transcreate accordingly.

Why bother? When do we use it?

Pepsi, baby food, KFC: you may have already guessed that transcreation is best applied when your intention is to sell something. It would be a grave error to transcreate an official work contract, for example, as the contents are fixed and thus should be translated as accurately and meticulously as possible. However, in a marketing text and often in texts where we require our audience to ‘feel’ a particularly intended emotion, the world well and truly is your oyster.

Selling products in the modern day often relies on the emotions of the audience, so when you consider that the audience varies country to country, it is not unreasonable to imagine that their emotions might too. It is therefore no surprise that in these contexts, transcreation becomes a vital element to translation – without applying it can be confusing for people at best, and highly offensive at worst.

Where do we come in?

Lingua-World has plenty of experience with these texts – in fact, we receive them on a daily basis. We work with countless companies who all have their own individual corporate voice and style, and work internationally with huge and varied audiences every single day. Our job is to ensure that we retain that voice, but tweak it here and there as we translate to ensure that the message is still conveyed in an appropriate way for the speakers of the target language.

With transcreation projects, we prefer to work a little closer with you. We like to get a feeling for your branding, how you appear to your customers now, and how you want to appear in the new language and culture. We can even do some research and see how it might be received a particular audience. Through our strong network of translators across the globe, we have the connections to ensure that you don’t make a critical faux pas like Pepsi did.

Drop us an email today to discuss the opportunities that transcreation can bring along.

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