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Translating with flying colours: Transcreation 101

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

If you’re a regular WIT follower, you’ll have noticed that we wax lyrical about transcreation a lot. But hey, it’s our MO, the real MVP. We’re proud to be transcreation pioneers. And yet, for some people out there, it is still an alien concept.

In dictionary corner, ☝️ that’s how we would define transcreation. It is most common within the marketing and advertising sphere. In real terms, you should think of transcreation as an antidote to that feeling deep in your stomach when something’s not quite right. The panic (in our case, at least) when you read copy in your native language and think… huh, that is… icky? We’re not talking about typos or grammar mistakes, we’re talking cultural and creative nuance.

Culture vultures

Culture is a huge deal in marketing and advertising; it is the lens through which consumers make sense of marketing communication. Each culture reflects, in its language and communication, what is of value to people. So, a marketing campaign that adapts itself to these cross-cultural variations and appeals to varying audiences (or indeed, avoids offence) by hinging itself on what matters most to them would be a successful one. Right?

Surprisingly, a cultural faux-pas can be as simple as a misplaced emoji (we even have translators* for that now). While your thumbs-up could be considered a sign of approval in the USA; in Iraq or Iran, it could cause some serious offence...

Translation in technicolour

The same goes for the use of colour; while red is the colour of love and danger in Western culture, it signifies luck in China. And while you might wear white to a wedding in Western culture (only if you’re the bride, don’t be that guy), you’d wear it to a Hindu funeral. That’s what we call a grave error. We won’t attempt to reinvent the colour culture wheel so, instead, feast your eyes on this geographical gift from the gods.

Conveniently, ‘glocal’ champions HSBC successfully summarised this marketing phenomenon in their ‘The world’s local bank’ ad campaign back in 2011, emphasising the importance of ‘local knowledge’ when working internationally. Note to self, never buy chrysanthemums for an Italian.

Transcreation is about having the skills to foresee these cultural stumbling blocks, break them down into manageable chunks and relish the transformation.

All we need to make this a reality is the trusty transcreation toolkit:

This toolkit covers all the bases you need for a translation that doesn’t sound like a translation. Something that reads as if it had been written as an original piece and appeals to a local audience.

Only with all of these elements can you produce translations that will resonate in individual countries across the spectrum. Love it or hate it, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to transcreation. Each project is tailor-made.

*While the term ‘translator’ has been used by the media, the job position actually consists more in ‘cultural consultation’. We wouldn’t dumb it down for you like that. We know you know your stuff.


By Amy Reid, WIT Account Manager


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