Transcreation: A Recipe for Success in International Marketing

Like any other field, the translation industry has its fair share of technical jargon. Language experts like us use terms such as transcreation and localization every day, but “outsiders” rarely know the differences between them. Throw in synonyms like “marketing translation”, “creative translation”, and “adaptation”, and there’s bound to be some confusion.  In the sections below, we’ll shed light on these different services and answer some frequently asked questions, including: 

  • What is transcreation? 

  • What’s the difference between transcreation and translation? 

  • How does transcreation differ from localization? 

  • When is transcreation the right way to go?

What is transcreation?

Transcreation refers to a freer approach to translating texts that takes the culture of the target market into account. As the term indicates, it combines the act of translation with the creation of new copy. Transcreation is often the method of choice in international marketing and the translation of advertising material. It’s useful in more than just creative campaigns, however; this approach can benefit any type of communication that can affect the image of a company or an individual.

The concept of transcreation is nothing new. Language service providers have been offering this service under different names for years. Whether it’s “marketing translation”, “creative translation”, or “cultural adaptation”, the goal is the same: coming up with copy that engages international audiences as effectively as the source material does in its original market.

The demand for this type of service has grown tremendously in recent years. Due to the ongoing process of globalization, more and more companies are developing an interest in creating international texts, translating their advertising, or localizing their websites. People are also becoming increasingly aware of the notion that cross-cultural marketing requires a more creative translation approach.

iWhat’s the difference between transcreation, translation, and localization?

These three terms are often used more or less interchangeably. But what exactly does each of these services involve? At the end of the day, they all attempt to make content accessible to foreign audiences. Where they differ is in the amount of nuance in their respective approaches.


The translation process is about converting a text into another language while remaining as true to the source as possible. The texts involved typically contain a large amount of information, but aren’t designed to win the reader over – think technical documents, medical reports, user manuals, white papers, and the like. Here, translators need to have technical knowledge of the field in question and the ability to reproduce the tone and style of the original material.


Localization takes translation a step further. Besides taking on the language of a given target market, it factors in cultural aspects and other local characteristics, from units and measurement and the way prices are quoted to appropriate metaphors and the colors chosen for layouts. Meanwhile, the translator ensures that the text content meets all the expectations of its intended audience.

Consider this example: A company wants to take an ad campaign designed for the United States and localize it for the European market. The U.S. version includes a reference to the Super Bowl – which is quite the spectacle in American football, but more of a niche interest across the pond. After conferring with the customer, the translator therefore replaces the reference with one to a sporting event that draws a similar amount of enthusiasm in Europe: the World Cup. This helps the campaign resonate better with its new target audience.

The localization process also takes culture-specific associations into consideration to avoid negative perceptions. In Japan, for example, chrysanthemums are a symbol of happiness and prosperity. They would have a very different effect in an ad campaign in Italy, however, where they represent death and mourning. An awareness of such stark differences in meaning is essential in global marketing.


The third and most nuanced level is transcreation. This service is best suited to content that really needs to be compelling and emotionally evocative. Instead of adapting existing text as in the case of translation and localization, the creative simply uses the source material as inspiration to write new content of the same level of quality for international marketing and advertising purposes. Since this frequently involves changing the structure of a text or the less important parts thereof along with the language itself, the source and target material can end up being quite different. The only thing they both need to convey is the same underlying message.

A good transcreation is on par with content written by a native speaker in every respect. For those who do this type of work, insights into the home and target markets at hand are just as essential as technical expertise and linguistic finesse. Transcreation specialists also need writing skills similar to those of marketing and advertising experts who work in one specific language. Their job is to present a source text in a new form that will engage the intended audience on an emotional level.

In the case of our Super Bowl example, a transcreation would go further than localizing the sporting event in question. The entire campaign might be realigned to elicit feelings of fun and excitement in the target group in a different way.

Meanwhile, there’s another difference between translation and transcreation: In projects of the latter variety, the customer is usually provided with several proposals for certain elements – especially taglines, headlines, and slogans. They can then make the final decisions and retain control of their campaign’s creative direction.

When is transcreation the right way to go?

As a general rule, if you want to impress, convince, or motivate your target audience, transcreation is what you need.

Here are some examples of content that benefits from a more creative approach to translation:

  • Press releases 

  • Corporate brochures 

  • Websites 

  • SEO content 

  • Subtitles 

  • Social media posts 

  • Direct marketing mailings 

  • Newsletters 

  • Articles in periodicals and trade journals 

  • Job postings 

  • Résumés and job applications 

  • Product catalogs 

  • Posters and flyers 

  • Presentations and speeches

Examples of successful transcreation campaigns

Many international marketing campaigns have succeeded because some wise soul made the decision to forgo a literal translation. The slogan used by the German candy company Haribo offers a well-known example. You might have to trust us on this, but the direct English translation – “Haribo makes children happy, and adults as well” – isn’t quite as catchy as the original German (“Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso”). Instead, the company opted to let its translators get creative with the jingle, which eventually resulted in “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo”. This captures the same sing-song quality of the German version while retaining the enjoyment-for-all-ages message.

Sometimes, even brand names can be transcreated. Coca-Cola, for instance, has adopted a slightly modified trademark in China to evoke positive emotions. The brand’s Chinese characters are pronounced “ko kou ko le”, which roughly means “delicious delight”. This makes for a more attractive brand.

Unfortunately, there have been other situations in which companies failed to recognize transcreation as the ideal solution. As long as we’re in China, let’s recall the time when KFC was attempting to gain a wing-hold in the country and needed a memorable translation of its famous English slogan, “Finger Lickin’ Good”. It certainly succeeded with “Eat Your Fingers Off”, but probably not in the way it had hoped.

Tips for successful international texts

Creative translations take time, effort, and talent. The more information is provided along with a request, the better the end result will be. Just as those who write ad copy use briefings from customers as guidance in their creative process, transcreation specialists need the same kind of orientation to understand their customers’ intentions and underlying brand values, as well as the expectations of the target audience at hand. If you give them as much corresponding information as possible, you’ll save time and the effort it takes to do related research, which ultimately keeps costs down.

To ensure the success of marketing translations, these briefings should cover the following:

  • Background information on the company and the project in question 

  • Further information on the product or service to be advertised 

  • Insights into the personality, values, and positioning of the corresponding brand 

  • The desired tone of the content 

  • The readership/target group the customer hopes to reach 

  • The intended message 

  • The planned sales channel for the text produced 

  • Image material that will accompany the text 

  • Explanations of specific terminology, cultural references, and image material 

  • Reference materials

Collaboration is key

When it comes to marketing translations and other image-relevant localization projects, it helps when customers work closely with their language service providers. The process is more extensive than in normal translation projects, but it pays off in the end. After all, your brand’s image is one of your most important assets, and you don’t want to put it in the wrong hands.

Lexsys can help you find the right service for your next global marketing campaign. Our team is made up of highly qualified translators, localization specialists, and transcreation experts with many years of marketing experience. If you’d like to discuss how we can help you carry out international advertising and image campaigns that will really resonate with your target markets, get in touch with us today.














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Stephen Healy


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Jewell Easty

Dear owner, Your posts are always well-supported by research and data.

Rolando Beich

Hello admin, Thanks for the well-organized and comprehensive post!

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