Don't Translate, Transcreate.

Nearly every marketer is familiar with some of the more infamous global marketing translation gaffes, from "Got Milk?" (rendered as "Are you lactating?" in Spanish) to the slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi generation," translated into Chinese as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave."

Those are, of course, a couple of extreme and highly visible cases. But small errors in the translation of marketing materials—brochures, ad campaigns, websites—occur every day as companies make the move into the global marketplace and promote their products and services in local languages.

How can you ensure that your translated campaign carries the impact of the original? And, looking even further back, how do you avoid the enormous cost (new creative, photography, design) of having to launch a new marketing campaign for each local market?

Enter marketing "transcreation," the process of linguistic and cultural translation that helps companies avoid potential problems from the very beginning. It is a method of naming products and working with catchphrases and idioms across multiple language markets while also maintaining brand and message consistency.

Here is a five-step guide of how to take your marketing campaign to a global audience:

1. Assess your campaign and content

Evaluate the goals of the campaign. If it's already live in a market, take a close look at the concepts, graphics, and headlines to assess their cultural relevance and appropriateness in the target market.

If you're just starting out, try to select concepts, copy, and graphic elements that will work evenly across cultures. For example, you may want to avoid symbols that carry deep political meaning in some parts of the world, such as a red star.

2. Bring on a qualified translation/localization team—and be ready to work together closely (and patiently!)

Select a group that has a rich understanding of both the source and target languages, and which also has qualities that you value (e.g., leadership, experience, customer service).

Then recognize that good trancreation is going to take time and effort on your part, too. Think about how much you invest in other efforts to maximize impact, such as demographic studies and multivariate testing; now apply that same energy to ensure this campaign makes sense abroad.

Build in the time to explore and collect ideas, conduct multiple copy reviews, and perform due diligence. Consider that your internal team will have to provide the firm and its linguists with a detailed transcreation brief (see No. 3, below) and collaborate with them during the process.

3. Create a transcreation brief

This document summarizes fundamental information about the company, product, and campaign to ensure that all teams understand the nuances of the language and business needs.

It specifies the target audience (age, lifestyle, behavior) and the thought process that has gone into producing the original text.

The brief also explains how to approach certain elements, such as branded terms that must remain in English or have particular translations, taglines, and images.

4. Hand over to translation/localization agency

Provide your agency with your transcreation brief and the actual creative that needs to be localized. Discuss with the agency the thought process behind the original creative and what concerns you may have about any of your target markets.

5. Transcreate

The agency begins with translation—literally. A linguist sits down with the source copy and creates a draft, sentence by sentence. This is technically an accurate translation, as it closely follows the original text. However, its purpose is to deliver the exact meaning from the original copy, not to impress the reader and win customers.

The translation is then refined: The text goes to another linguist who works solely with the target (translated) copy and the transcreation brief. The linguist edits the copy until it truly sounds as if it had been written for the target market, but within the parameters and objectives of the campaign. At this point, the linguist may even make suggestions to you for alternative images or concepts that would make translation even smoother.

During the transcreation process, the linguist is guided by the following principles, which may affect the ultimate outcome of your campaign

Harmony of Images and Text

More so than any other kind of text, marketing copy is full of figures of speech, humor, and cultural references. When these are adjusted during the translation process, sometimes the imagery has to change with it. For instance, assume we were to translate one of our own taglines, such as this one:

We'd likely run into problems, because not all languages have the verb "bridge." We'd have to use a synonym like "unite" or "connect." A linguist might decide to use "bridge" as a noun (to ensure that the image remains relevant) and tie in the meaning in other ways.

Or the linguist might even eliminate "bridge" altogether and use a phrase such as "Can your application eliminate the language gap?" or "Can your application bring down the language barrier?" In both those cases, a new visual would be required.

Sometimes, You Just Have to Pick

In some cases, not all meanings contained in a sentence can be carried over to the target language. As much as we want it to, wordplay often just doesn't work in a different language, and a translator has to choose whether to stick to the meaning, at the expense of style, or develop the concept that best adapts to the structure and use of the target language—at the risk of losing some of the meaning.

Take, for example, the above case of translating a tagline. If we were to adapt "We get it" to a Spanish audience, we would put together two Spanish linguists to brainstorm on the meaning of "We get it" and create a few synonym phrases, such as "We understand," "That's our business," and "That's what we do."

Linguists would write down the many possible translations:

  • Entendido (Got it, understood)
  • Entendemos (We understand)
  • Entendimos (We understood)
  • Sí, lo entendemos (Yes, we understand)
  • Nosotros sabemos (We know)
  • Lo sabemos (We know it)
  • Nos encargamos (We'll take care of it)
  • Nos encargamos nosotros (We'll take care of it)
  • Como no (Of course)
  • Claro (Of course, it is clear)
  • Por supuesto (Of course)
  • Obvio (Of course)
  • Lo tenemos (We have it)
  • Es lo nuestro (It's our stuff)

What then? With so many possibilities, what should be chosen?

Your agency will work with you and your team (and, if appropriate, your overseas team) to look at the choices and narrow down the options, taking into consideration the campaign visuals and supplementary text.

Ultimately, the final, selected phrase should closely convey to the new target audience the same general meaning and desired impact that was intended for the original audience.

* * *

The most effective way to create a localized marketing campaign is simply to recognize the intricacies involved in the process, and have the patience to do it right from the beginning.

When moving their products and services into new market, businesses cannot afford to underestimate the importance of people's sensitivity to their language and culture. Having a global creative process that includes transcreation, not just translation, will save you many rewrites—and headaches—down the road.

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A Five-Step Guide to Take Your Campaign Global

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Dina Paglia is a client development manager at Acclaro (, an independent marketing translation and localization firm. Reach her via or, for marketing translation tips, Twitter (@acclaro_inc).