If you’ve done the research, implemented A/B testing, have clear buyer personas, and are confident in your engagement strategy, yet your global marketing return on investment is keeping you up at night, transcreation could be the answer. Simply put, it is the art and science of successfully marketing across cultures.
Transcreation differs markedly from conventional translation, which encompasses the process of switching words in one language into another to preserve the literal meaning. Transcreation ensures your message hits home in another culture in terms of connotation, cultural sensitivity and linguistic nuances. In short, while translation focuses on creating corresponding literal meaning, transcreation centres on conveying the original intent of content in a different language and culture.
It often involves the reworking of the original concept to make it relevant and engaging in the target language, and requires translators to creatively engage with the marketing strategy. This leeway extends to transcreators creating new product slogans and names, and even deciding the colours and images to be used. High-quality transcreators are not only talented linguists, but expert copywriters and are good at design. When looking at what can go right and what can go wrong with marketing in different cultures, it’s easy to see why more and more firms are searching for expert transcreators.
Between the two biggest markets in the world – the US and China – not only does consumer behaviour differ in terms of values, attitudes and beliefs, the regulations governing marketing campaigns are distinctive. Imagine a US-based tutoring platform aimed at teens expanding into China, where social cohesion is a long-standing cultural motif, and rolling out a marketing campaign that riffs on so-called ‘woke’ values of diversity and social justice.
Or, take the real-world case of Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana, which in November 2018 launched three videos on Chinese social media to promote its upcoming runway show. The clips feature models clumsily attempting to eat Italian food like pizza and spaghetti with chopsticks. This was seen by many Chinese consumers as insulting, with the backlash resulting in a cancelled show and dismal sales results.
But brands that get it right, reap the rewards. For example, in 2020, Coca-Cola honed in on a popular method of consuming its soda in China – heating it and adding ginger to create a cold-fighting remedy. The marketing copy was sensitive to traditional Chinese medicine concepts of balanced consumption (think yin and yang) and emphasised the product as a warming beverage. In 2019, Coca-Cola accounted for some 42% of the Chinese carbonated drinks market.
Messaging written for one target audience segment usually won’t resonate with a different group, especially across borders. Transcreation experts are innovative, are often copywriters and editors, and start with a creative brief, as opposed to translation, where the translator starts with the source text and aims to convey the literal meaning. The result is brand new messaging that achieves the intent of the marketing strategy.
Even though a great translator will translate text in the spirit of the original text, the message can become blurred in this context. Transcreation is a better fit when you want to prompt an action, whereas translation would be appropriate to convey information. Transcreators focus on the tone of voice, bias, and the target group to finesse the message. Rather than using dubbing and subtitling on existing content, for example, transcreation would entail new multimedia content.
What with ads, multilingual EO, web content and social media engagement, marketing campaigns are costly, often running into millions of dollars. The consequences of a flop can be poor sales, a negative brand perception and even a fine if an ad were found to transgress local regulations. Transcreation mitigates these risks through adapting marketing campaigns to a specific environment. Mitigating these risks helps optimise return on investment.
Transcreation even includes picking the most appropriate colours to include in marketing materials and sourcing appropriate imagery. In India, for example, when Marvel released the Spider-Man comic series, the backstory was changed so that Peter Parker became Mumbai-native Pavitr Prabhakar, who wears a dhoti (traditional trouser-like drape worn by men in India) and was born in a poor village. Though the details are significantly different, the essence of Spidey as a young male who is imbued with super powers is the same. Consumers who easily relate to the brand message are more likely to purchase your product or service.
When you take your marketing efforts abroad, your enterprise will have to pick between transcreation, translation and localisation .
Transcreation and localisation both localise copy, but to differing extents. If you think that your content will not be received well by your target consumers if it is localised only, then transcreation is the way to go. The cost of misjudging these options could be high, but getting it right will increase the likelihood of maximising your marketing return on investment. A hybrid approach is also an option, whereby elements of the marketing campaign are transcreated and others are simply localised.
As transcreators have much more creative wriggle room than translators – wearing the two hats of creator and translator – they need a very clear and specific brief, and close collaboration is important. Therefore, picking the right partner is paramount. The secret sauce to getting marketing and transcreation right is great communication. After all, the transcreator needs to thoroughly understand the underlying concept to be able to translate the client’s marketing concept.
The kind of information you’d need to convey are your target audience, marketing objectives, the benefits for the target group, the marketing campaign content, and the distribution channels. Given the significant creative element of the cross cultural communication services process, transcreation is a more complex undertaking than most translation. For example, the transcreation process involves localisation testing , multimedia localisation services , and more drafts and iterations for ongoing feedback than with translation. As has been shown above, this extra effort is worth it.
At Into23 we have seasoned Marketing Translation and Transcreation experts who will be able to respond to your evolving needs. Talk to our expert team today for a free assessment and quote.
Poor translation in international relations can have profound and far-reaching consequences, sometimes for several countries, especially when it comes to negotiating complex trade agreements, like the one the European Union recently signed with the UK after years of torturous negotiations detailing Brexit arrangements.
In perhaps the most shocking instance, a mistranslation of a Japanese word contributed to the dropping of nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the final days of World War II.
On July 26, 1945, towards the end of World War II, the United States, Great Britain and China called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. The demand, issued at the Potsdam conference, which was convened to discuss what peace would look like, came some two months after the fall of Hitler. However, the war raged on in the Pacific, with Japan showing few signs of letting up. The declaration pledged that the country would not be “enslaved” or “destroyed”, and warned that a negative response would result in “prompt and utter destruction.”
Answering the demand, then Japanese prime minister Suzuki Kantaro responded with the term “mokusatsu,” the translation of which has subsequently become the focus of heated debate.
Notably, he was speaking to reporters off the cuff, before the government had formally decided on its stance. In this context, mokusatsu can be translated as “no comment.” The word has other meanings, and the international press variously translated the response as “not worthy of comment,” and “held in silent contempt,” which riled the US and the UK, who saw the perceived response as aligning with the kamikaze spirit.
Ten days later they decided to drop two nuclear bombs on the country. Linguists have called this the world’s most tragic translation.
Not only did a mistranslation play a part in determining the way World War II ended, another mistranslation arguably increased the likelihood of World War III some 50 years ago.
Against the backdrop of simmering Cold War tensions, and the growing threat of nuclear war, comments by Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev caused a stir. Speaking in 1956 to a gathering of ambassadors from Western Block countries at the Polish embassy in Moscow, Khrushchev’s comments prompted the envoys of 13 countries to turn their backs and leave the event.
Khruschev was reported to have told the diplomats, “we will bury you”.
However, the context of the quote was not precisely conveyed in the translation. The translator was one Viktor Sukhodrev, who was dubbed the king of interpreters. Sukhodrev has commented that Khrushchev was a difficult speaker to translate as he told jokes and sprinkled his speeches with proverbs.
Some observers argue the translation was too literal, as other meanings of the phrase used include “we will live to see you buried,” or “we shall outlast you.”
Putting the phrase into the context of the whole speech, which was about ideology and not war, shows the threatening element of the “we shall bury you” quote is overblown when taken out of context.
Indeed, Khrushchev later clarified the statement, saying, “I once said, ‘We will bury you’, and I got into trouble with it. Of course, we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.” This sentiment aligned with communist ideology, which saw the proletariat as the undertaker of capitalism. The sentiment being expressed was that Communism would outlast Capitalism. In the end, Sukhodrev’s translation was technically right, but he had arguably misjudged the audience’s level of understanding of the cultural context of the phrase.
Observers continue to debate whether it was a misinterpretation or a full-on mistranslation.
In 2005, then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kicked up a brouhaha with comments he gave at a conference titled The World Without Zionism. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the then newly installed leader had said that Israel was a “disgraceful blot” and it should be “wiped off the face of the earth.”
France, German, Israel and the US swiftly condemned the statement. Indeed, previous Iranian leaders had previously issued similar comments, though not for several years, and in that time, relations between many Muslim states and Israel had improved.
However, linguists like Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, pointed out that the original Persian statement did not express the thought that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. Rather, a more accurate translation is, “Israel would collapse.”
It seems newswire translators had mistranslated the statement. These translators had relied on a quote from a speech given in the 1980s by Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which had also been translated imprecisely, as a reference for the quote.
Not only did the transaction mishap stoke international tensions and the perception that Iran was adopting a more militaristic stance on Israel, in Iran the quote in English was taken up by nationalists and plastered on billboards.
On a lighter note, US president Jimmy Carter was subject to some colourful mistranslations on a visit to Poland in 1977. In one speech, he intimated that he’d like to get to know the Polish people’s “desires for the future.” The interpreter, however, mistranslated it as Carter expressing sexual desire for the country. The comment was met with stone-cold silence.
The interpreter also mangled another part of Carter’s speech, reported Time magazine. In this instance, “I left the United States this morning” became, “I left the United States, never to return.” Queue more silence.
The interpreter was replaced, but the problems didn’t end there. While giving a toast at a state banquet later that same trip, Carter looked up from his speech to be met by another wall of silence. The new interpreter had found the US leader’s English too challenging, so instead of interpreting, he just stayed silent.
It’s not just international relations where precision and context are key. Interpreting business requirements need the same level of skill and experience. For example, eliciting the same responses as the mistranslations above in customers would be disastrous if you’re engaging in the likes of a media localisation agency, audio transcription services provider, or legal translator. Correct translation and translation quality assurance are incredibly important.
These examples clearly demonstrate the need for precise translations that are nuanced enough to take account of the cultural context. Whether you’re looking for a Russian translation agency, or want to access a Arabic vs Urdu vs Farsi translating and interpreting service, to avoid diplomatic faux pas, get in touch with Into23’s team of expert, and very precise, polyglot translators.
When we think of the technology behind today’s machine translation, and the science behind the wondrous COVID-19 vaccines, and space travel, it’s hard to believe that none of this would have been possible were it not for a group of expert Arab translators located in Baghdad some 1,000 years ago.
From Wordpress translation, localisation services and multimedia localisation, to transcreation and linguistic testing, today’s language services companies are the inheritors of a noble tradition that has had a profound effect on the very fabric of civilisation. Read on to discover the surprising history of translation.
The Islamic Golden Age (8th to 13th century) centred on Baghdad, and saw science, economic development and cultural endeavours flourish in the Islamic world at a time when Western Europe was shrouded in the so-called Dark Ages, where most ancient Greek and Roman texts on maths, science and philosophy had been lost and Christianity held sway. The Christian church preached that it wasn’t humankind’s place to probe God’s creation, so inquiry into the nature of the world was effectively discouraged. Indeed, many of these texts were considered heretical, and the penalty for engaging with them was severe.
During this period, Arab translators preserved ancient Greek and Roman texts through translating them into Arabic. It’s estimated that nearly all Greek secular books available in the Near East at the time were translated into Arabic. The subject range was vast, covering alchemy and astrology, the theory of music, philosophy, physics and botany, logic, health science, pharmacology and medicine, to name just a few. Just one edition of commentary on Aristotle comprises 74 volumes. Much of what we know today of Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Euclid and many other great thinkers, is the direct result of these Arab translators.
Cynics may wonder what significance translating musty old tomes a millennium ago has on today’s scientific and social achievements. The Graeco-Arabic translation movement saw secular Greek and Roman text translated into Arabic and these texts then found their way into Europe, partly through Spain, which was then controlled by a caliphate.
Caliph Al-Mansur launched the Arab translation movement in CE 754, a few years after Chinese paper-making techniques had leaked to Arabs. From here, Arab translators organised into an extensive translation system with vast resources.
Built by Caliph Haround Al-Rasheed (786-809 CE) and located in Baghdad, The House of Wisdom – the size of today’s British Library – was a huge library of ancient texts. These texts outlined concepts like common zero and the numerals we know today. This abstract mathematical language underpins scientific innovation and would go on to transform the world. At the time, Western Europe was still using Roman numerals, which made division and multiplication or any higher forms of mathematics incredibly challenging.
The library, which contained Indian and some Chinese works as well as Greek and Roman texts, became a centre for learning. Translators trained in specific areas, like engineering, much like today’s translation agencies do. As the library’s collection grew, the building was extensively extended. It was populated by scientists, scribes, writers, and philosophers, who spoke a wide range of languages, like Farsi, Hebrew and Arabic, much as today’s translation agencies rely on experts in their fields and language area. It was a diverse and learned environment.
At the time, this was the largest transfer of knowledge in history. The model proved successful with other Islamic leaders, who emulated the endeavour and established their own centres of learning, such as Dar al-Hikma in Cairo, which was constructed in 1005 CE by Caliph Al-Hakim.
So, just how did these Arabic texts make their way to Europe and help spark the Renaissance and Enlightenment?
Another massive translation movement took off in Andalusia in Islamic Spain in the 12th century. Here the works that had been translated into Arabic were translated into latin, making them accessible to latin-speakers across the continent. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars flocked to the city to get involved, which fostered the creation of a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic centre of learning. Though Toledo was the centre, translators were hard at work across the caliphate.
When Christian forces reconquered Spain in 1085, they set about methodically organising the huge body of work they inherited from the caliphate. This acted to accelerate the pace of translation. Under this system, a native speaker would speak the contents of the text to a scholar, who went not to dictate the Latin equivalent to a scribe.
Perhaps the most prolific translator of this era was Italian Gerard of Cremona, who translated some 87 texts, including works on surgery, physics and maths.
The extent of knowledge that was transferred is staggering. From Spain, this knowledge extended through universities across Europe, where ecclesiastical opposition to studying ancient texts had softened somewhat.
In a vivid example, Al-Zahrawi’s translation of information on surgical instruments helped revolutionise medical intervention. It included information on a drill to dislodge calculus from the urethra, and a technique to remove tonsils. In another example, translations of chemistry texts by Jabir and Al-Razi helped form the basis of modern science. These works comprised information that led to industrial processes like metal refining.
You may have learned about Kepler and his revolutionary telescope at school. Kepler’s achievement was made possible by texts on optics translated by Ibn al-Haytham. There is also evidence to suggest that Copernicus, who determined that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way round, built his model on ancient Greek knowledge translated out of Toledo.
This flourishing of knowledge in the Christian world helped spark the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the explosion of scientific discoveries and theories that led us to where we are today.
So, when you next send a text to your expert Translation Agency in Hong Kong , commission a legal document translation or use AI generated sentences , you’re participating in an endeavour that helped create the modern world. To speak to an expert translator, contact us today.