Although it feels like the term “transcreation” only made a fairly recent appearance in the vocabulary of the localisation industry, it’s still undecided exactly where and when it was first coined. For example, some believe that its origins date back as far as the 1960s, where it was used in advertising to describe the adaptation of creative ad copy for a foreign market; others have said it was a term used when localising computer and video games in the 1980s. Regardless of its origins, the most important thing is to make sense of what transcreation refers to in its current context.

In recent years, the word transcreation has become a localisation buzzword, and is often used to define the process whereby copy is customised to transfer the intent and impact of the original message for the new target market.

It has been argued, however, that linguists were customising copy in this way long before the term transcreation became recognised. As a result, there seems to be mixed interpretations as to what distinguishes marketing translation from transcreation, and confusion both in terms of workflows and budgeting expectations. Some say that transcreation only applies to the adaptation of slogans, others apply it to any marketing copy that requires translation; sometimes a CAT tool is used, other times it’s worked on outside of a tool, in Excel.

Most of us will have been exposed to transcreation at work, such as in film titles, well-known brands’ jingles or slogans. The impact of a good or poor transcreation can be powerful. There have been several transcreation blunders over the years; famous examples include a number of automotive brands failing to realise the potential negative connotations of a model name when launching their product in another market. Take for example, General Motors, who were unaware that “No Va” means “It won’t go”, when launching their Chevy Nova in South America.

Another well-known transcreation mishap is HSBC and their slogan “assume nothing”, which was mistranslated into “do nothing” when marketed in other countries. That certainly wasn’t the message they wanted to put across in terms of using their services. This mistake led to a rebrand costing around 10 million US dollars!

Although we do seem to have a clear understanding of the ultimate goal of transcreation and the magnitude of its impact, it’s clear that we have a long way to go in terms of standardising the processes and workflows to enable us to achieve the desired outcome. TAUS recognised the gap in our industry for such information and have since released a document called “TAUS Transcreation Best Practices and Guidelines”.

With this document, TAUS has highlighted the importance of producing resources that answer many relevant questions surrounding this topic, such as definitions of marketing translation, transcreation, multilingual copywriting and how to set them apart from one another, as well as examples of translation, transcreation and copywriting in action.

I’m certain that in the future we will have a clearer understanding of transcreation as a service, but until then it’s clear that we can’t take the word transcreation at face value; it’s much more than a combination of two words. Regardless of what you think this elusive term means, the next time you see it, don’t be afraid to ask questions to get to the core of its role in each specific context; only then can the creative team take the first steps towards delivering a project according to expectations.

Icebreaker, Icebreaker June 2019, Industry issues, Translation industry