Transcreation: going beyond simple advertisement translation

At translation agency Vienna | Connect Translations Austria, we offer not only “typical” specialised translations and sworn translations, but also so-called “transcreation” of texts and images of all kinds.

The two components that make up the word “transcreation” already allude to its meaning: transcreation is a mix of translating and recreating a text. Serving in this particular role of an intercultural language mediator requires a high level of creativity and cultural empathy. In practice, the method of transcreation is often applied in the field of advertising, where this procedure is often simply referred to as “advertisement translation.” The term “localisation” is used to describe a method strongly related to the principle of transcreation.

The source material for such processes  of transcreation or localisation can include both images and texts which are in some way closely tied to a specific culture – be it due to their symbolic meaning or due the choice of words. During the process of transcreation, this source material is adapted to the needs and habits of another culture wherever these pieces of communication do not produce the same effect in the target culture as they do in the source culture – or, in extreme cases, where the intended meaning might be lost completely, even if the text is read in translation. In the context of transcreation, the notion of “culture” is not only used in the sense of a “national culture” in the widest sense, but can also refer to the concept of corporate culture or subcultures in a more narrow sense. In fact, both the process of culturally adapting the translation of a Japanese automotive ad to the Austrian market and rewriting an English specialised journal article in order to make it suitable for German-speaking children constitute acts of transcreation. When it comes to transcreation, or in fact localisation, being creative and imaginative is key.

Transcreation: going beyond simple copywriting

Transcreation therefore means diverting from the usual methods of translating a text. Unlike with technical translation, the main goal is not to transfer the meaning of the source text with utmost precision, but instead to focus on adapting the text to the needs of the target culture. As a consequence, translators often have to completely reimagine a text or choose vastly different images.

In this process, the transcreator works based on a so-called “briefing” delivered by the client. In this briefing, the client describes the envisaged target audience and stipulates the desired characteristics of the target text. In this sense, transcreation is quite similar to the traditional method of copywriting, the big difference being, however, that transcreation is usually an interlingual procedure. In rare cases, transcreators even have to transform images into texts. This is an example not of an interlingual but of a so-called intersemiotic transfer, which also falls into the category of transcreation.

In this sense, transcreators have to bring both copywriting skills (creativity, knowledge of the target audience, eloquence) as well as translation skills (excellent knowledge of both languages and cultures, cultural sensitivity, proper handling of terminology) to the job.