Transcreation, Blind Transcreation, and How to Use Each to Drive Global Impact

Is transcreation just a fancy word for translation? Is it a new trend or just another buzzword used by translators to sell their services? What is blind transcreation? Lots of questions, all with an answer in this blog.

Transcreation is a form of translation, i.e., a translation technique, but it’s important to understand transcreation as something very distinct from regular translation. Let’s address some basic concepts and explore the ways in which transcreation can do much more for global businesses than regular translatiob.

In this post:

What is transcreation?

Even though transcreation is a relatively young term, the practice itself has been around for decades – as long as marketing for international audiences has existed.

Transcreation is a subset of creative translation that concerns marketing texts. Our definition of transcreation is “the application of an extreme form of creative translation for marketing or advertising purposes that looks to emulate the tone, style, and intent of the original without necessarily transferring the same concepts or conveying the same message.”

In other words, transcreation is a translation technique – for some experts, a discipline in its own right – concerned with converting international advertising and marketing copy from one language to another, where the focus isn’t so much on the meaning of the source text as on its intended impact on the target audience.

Transcreation differs from traditional translation by reaching for resonance rather than equivalence. And by this, we mean brand resonance, defined as how well customers relate to a specific brand; how they perceive the values and goals of that brand. It’s the ability of a brand to create an emotional connection with its consumers.

Not all translations need to create an emotional connection with its consumers (think: a legal document, a washing machine manual).

The result of a transcreated text is closer to a completely new text that’s been tailored specifically to what will compel the target audience to take action (i.e., convert).

Transcreated texts, therefore, may have their own tone, style, and even message, that can be different from the source text as long as they produce the same emotional effect on the target audience.

What is translation?

Differently from transcreation, translation is the direct conceptual transference of information from one language to another. Translation means re-expressing meaning – normally, this is usually done phrase-by-phrase o sentence-by-sentence.

However, the common assumption that translation is literal by definition is a misconception. The focus of translation work is the transfer of the meaning or the message of a source-language text into an equivalent target-language text. Depending on the syntax and grammar of each language, this might require significant adaptation –e.g., in punctuation, sentence length, and style – to produce natural-sounding text.

The difference between transcreation and creative translation

Creative translation is a subcategory within translation. A simple definition of creative translation is the application of creative language devices to translate creative content, without going to the extent of re-writing it from scratch like transcreation sometimes does.

Creative translation includes, for instance, the strategic use of humour and metaphors to convey a specific message or the adaptation of literary devices from one language to another.

Traditional translation can involve different subject fields: technical translation, legal translation, medical translation, literary translation, marketing translation, etc. Some of these fields can be grouped under the umbrella term “creative translation.”

Creative translation concerns disciplines where the source text includes creative devices whose literal translation would result in a text that is awkward or incomprehensible. In these instances, the translator has to take creative licenses and come up with equivalent target-language devices so the target text will work for its intended purpose.

For example, creative translators might:

  • Change the structure of a sentence in a poem or a song in order to make the verse rhyme in the target language
  • Add or omit source-text information in order to make it more concise in the target language
  • Come up with a completely new metaphor in the target text
  • Find an equivalent pun in the target language if one has been used in the source text
  • Swap a noun phrase for a verb phrase to enhance the target text’s readability

Creative translation is common for literature, film, music, the arts, marketing, and even political texts such as speeches designed to influence or inspire an audience.

The difference between direct translation and transcreation

To put transcreation into perspective, it’s important to understand that transcreation and translation have different focuses. The following six points provide a framework for transcreation vs translation:

Transcreation strives for resonance not accuracy

#1 Transcreation strives for resonance, not accuracy

Because transcreation deals with marketing copy, and copy – by definition – seeks to persuade the reader so they will take the desired action, transcreation puts a strong emphasis on reaching and resonating with the target audience. According to neuromarketing, purchase decisions are emotionally driven. And because emotions are culturally shaped, transcreation is an extremely powerful tool to convert and sell.

This means that transcreated texts might – and often should! – deviate from the source text in order to make the transcreated text more effective at converting the reader. For example, film titles are often transcreated in a way that appeals to the target audience, with an aim to increase international box office grosses.

#2 Translation can sometimes be performed by machines

In the last few decades, machine translation has evolved significantly. Since 2015, neural machine translation (NMT) has been promoting a paradigm shift in the way we think about translation.

Today’s NMT can now deal with syntax, grammar, and even colloquialisms, and can often produce very accurate translations – as long as the text is relatively simple and straightforward. It’s the case of some contracts, certain types of medical and legal documentation, and even some texts that are of a technical nature.

Transcreation, on the other hand, is about human creativity. As a result, machine translation isn’t really up to par with humans yet – and probably won’t ever be. If transcreation is all about resonance and emotions, then we need to understand that transcreation is ultimately an artistic task. This means that transcreation requires great imagination as well as a good understanding of the target audience in order to transcreate texts successfully.

#3 Transcreators work with a brief

Much like copywriters, who need to understand the product and the brand in order to produce compelling copy, transcreators need to understand the client’s business and market, as well as the desired emotional effect, in order to transcreate a text successfully.

This means that transcreation is rarely performed as a one-person job – it’s usually part of a larger global marketing campaign that involves meetings and briefings with the client’s marketing managers, designers, and other creatives in order to establish some transcreation guidelines. If the chosen technique is blind transcreation, a detailed brief is even more crucial.

Translators, on the other hand, don’t normally get a brief of the same kind a copywriter or transcreator receives. Translators can get down to work pretty independently after receiving some basic translation guidelines such as the target locale, previous reference projects, the desired tone and register, and any terminological issues that might need to be addressed.

#4 Translation can leverage translation memories

Translation memories (TMs) are databases of previously translated texts. They allow translators to reuse parts of the text that they’ve already translated in previous projects when working on new ones, thus saving time and money. This is particularly helpful in fields such as the legal, medical, and financial industries where terminology typically remains unchanged from project to project.

TMs are of great value to translation agencies, as they allow them to maintain big databases of reusable translations and provide clients with lower rates and faster turnaround times. For transcreators, however, TM technology is not as helpful – and can, at times, even be counterproductive. This is because transcreators need to produce texts that are original and unique each time.

Moreover, a lot of transcreation work needs to be SEO-optimised, and the use of synonyms is key to producing SEO-friendly assets. This makes the primary purpose of translation memories, i.e., the creation of reusable texts, incompatible with transcreation.

#5 Transcreators charge by the hour

Translators and transcreators have different billing rates. While charging the translation of a 2000-word contract by the word makes a lot of sense – it’s easy to estimate how much time it will take –, transcreators tend to get paid by the hour or project.

One reason is that transcreation requires a lot of imagination, brainstorming, creativity, and research. These tasks are not easy to quantify in terms of word count or page count.

Moreover, transcreators might need to spend countless hours trying out different versions of a translation in order to come up with the perfect transcreated text. Think of a slogan: a simple three-word phrase can take a transcreator days to finalise.

#6 Transcreation projects are more expensive

For the same reason transcreation is usually paid by the hour, and because of how long transcreation can take, transcreation requires a significantly bigger budget than regular translation projects.

However, the benefits of transcreation usually outweigh its hefty price tag – they can lead to fruitful payoffs for the client in terms of branding and positioning as well as a significant increase in sales.

Transcreation examples

Now that we’ve established the differences between transcreation and translation, let’s take a look at two solid transcreation examples that hit the nail on the head.

Transcreation example 1: Movie titles

A common example of transcreation is movie titles. These usually change from one country to another (even if they share the language!) as part of marketing ploys or to make them even more impactful.

Transcreation example 1

Transcreation example 2: Taglines

Here’s a random tagline, from a random food brand’s website, that would need transcreation (culinary translation is very rich in this sense): “Tailoring the Spice Route our way”. Imagine this needed transcreation into French.

Transcreation example: Spice Tailor

Machine translation would be disastrous here! Instead of “La Route des épices à notre façon !” (direct translation), a good transcreation would be “Découvrez la route des épices à notre sauce !”, which means “Discover the spice route our way” with a play on words with “sauce”.

The French expression “à notre sauce” means “our way” and is particularly well suited here as the brand sells sauces/pastes. It also works with the visuals.

Transcreation example 3: Puns and word plays

Puns and word plays are linguistic gems that often seem impossible to replicate across languages due to language-specific intricacies and cultural contexts. However, it’s important to recognise that not every translated pun automatically falls under the realm of transcreation. Here’s where the distinction between transcreation and creative translation comes into focus.

Transcreation and creative translation may share the goal of adapting creative content across languages, but the intentions and applications diverge: transcreation distinguishes itself by the specific context in which it thrives: marketing and advertising.

Let’s delve into an example that perfectly encapsulates the essence of transcreation: Ryan Gosling donning a jumper that proudly proclaimed, “I am KENough” in the new Barbie movie.

yan Gosling donning a jumper that proudly proclaimed, "I am KENough" in the new Barbie movie

When effectively transcreated, these word plays can become potent tools for international marketing campaigns. For the Spanish-speaking audience, a suitable transcreation could be “Soy sufiKENte.” By seamlessly weaving together “suficiente” (enough) and “Ken,” the transcreated phrase mirrors the original play on words.

What makes this a transcreation? Its real-world impact. The jumper featured in the movie has become an actual product available for purchase, directly linking the transcreation to a marketing endeavor. Furthermore, the scene of Ryan Gosling wearing the jumper has become a meme, amplifying the phrase’s reach and engagement, thereby serving the movie’s marketing campaign.

What is blind transcreation?

Blind transcreation is an extreme form of transcreation that is closer to copywriting than to translation. What sets it apart from copywriting is that copywriters enjoy significantly more leeway to play around with the client’s proposition. They usually get to decide – after thorough research – on things like structure, format, key ideas, content distribution, etc. In blind transcreation, however, the client’s marketing department (which includes copywriters) will draft up a very detailed “road map” or blueprint for the linguist.

Think of it as drawing and colouring: while a copywriter would be given a blank page and a few sharpies to let their imagination run wild, a linguist in charge of blind transcreation will be asked to simply colour within the lines of something that someone else has already sketched for them.

As a result, if a piece of marketing collateral undergoes blind transcreation into several languages, the transcreated end products will share a common “core” across all target languages. Something like having the same mandala design printed off several times with each copy being coloured and decorated differently.

So, blind transcreation goes further than regular transcreation by enabling the creative reinterpretation of the message in the target language to produce a text different from its source (but just as powerful) without seeing the source text. Put simply, then, blind transcreation is transcreation with no source text—a mid-point between regular transcreation and copywriting.

Blind Transcreation on the scale of closeness to the source text

GoodBye, Source Text! By Giulia Tarditi

Monese, a mobile app that lets users transfer various currencies on the fly, had a serious issue with their mobile app. The company had the translations for its buttons and labels, but the wording was still confusing customers in various regions. The solution came in quite an interesting format: an idea by Giulia Tarditi, Monese’s Localisation Manager at the time. She called it “Goodbye, Source Text! Discover a Source-Free Translation Scenario That Helps Increase Your Conversion Rates.”

This was the origin of what is now known in the industry as blind transcreation. Her intervention converted more customers and reduced customer service calls. 

How did Giulia do it?

Giulua’s team originally tried to hire target-language copywriters instead of translators, but those efforts didn’t pay off in terms of conversions as they were expecting. Looking into it, she realised that just describing the features that translators had to transfer into other languages, separate from the original wording, was faster, easier, and more efficient. Giulia reached out to her translators, instructed them accordingly, and they produced amazing results for Monese.

Implementing blind transcreation

We tried implementing blind transcreation with some of our clients, and the results have been fantastic. Of course, to be able to try this approach, each client has to first provide their translation team with a style guide, a brand guide, glossaries, and a good brief – the more thorough the documentation they provide, the better.

The documentation should cover the following:

  • Target market
  • Demographics of the target locale
  • Data and statistics from surveys or market research
  • Details on key concepts or message
  • Desired outcome of the target text
  • Chosen presentation (newsletter, landing page, social media post, brochure)
  • Preferred method of distribution (how and when the piece will be shared)
  • Details regarding intention (how it will be used)
  • Ideal word count
  • Character limitations if applicable
  • Structure (headings, paragraphs, lists)
  • Existing taglines or phrases from previous translation or transcreation work
  • Calls to action
  • Inspiration and examples to imitate
  • Files or links to relevant old projects

See below the formatting specifications from a sample brief put together by our client Jimdo. The third column is where the transcreator will enter their blind transcreation output (in this case, in English):

Blind transcreation brief sample
Blind transcreation sample brief

A word of warning…

While this article has aimed at providing a definition of what transcreation is and what it isn’t, the language industry still bears witness to countless debates over transcreation. No two definitions are the same, and no two transcreation experts seem to agree on how transcreation should be executed.

What the industry can do is discuss transcreation in an open dialogue, but ultimately, transcreators and clients alike must do their own homework and research to come up with a transcreation strategy that works for all parties.

For help with your own transcreation needs, reach out to us!

Maria Scheibengraf Crisol Translation Services SaaS Translation Services

Author: Maria Scheibengraf

Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.

  • Avatar for Johannes
    Johannes 2:08 pm

    Hi Crisol team, thanks for this insightful article, I appreciated it a lot! I think it‘s an important debate worth having, and myself being a marketing translator for 10 years now, here are my 2 cents in order to add a different perspective.

    One issue I have with the term transcreation is that is often defined by devaluing „regular“ translation. In such comparisons – „transcreation vs translation“ -, you often read that translation is done „word by word“ (or very close to the source text), that it doesn‘t involve creative thinking, that it can often be done almost independently from outside context, that machine translation can adequately replace it, and that it basically results in a fixed carbon copy of the original text where the client carries the risk that the translation will ultimately fail to reach the target audience because it is not adapted to their needs. Listening to such descriptions of „regular“ translation, it’s not surprising that translators are often regarded as „word-processing machines“ who can only expect low rates, and not as valuable language consultants on an equal footing. And people might ask why you would even have to study such a “one-dimensional” job for years at university…

    I also studied translation for five years and I would argue that all the things that characterize a transcreation mindset are already included in the skillset of a professional translator (apart from of course the content writing/marketing expertise): – You learn to take a strategic approach to EVERY translation. In particular, analyzing the message sender, the target audience, the context and the text‘s purpose (things that are usually included in the creative brief for a transcreation – but in fact they are relevant for every translation (although in reality they are of course sometimes disregarded for time/budget constraints)).
    This blog also says that translation strives for equivalence, while transcreation stives for resonance. I would disagree and say that translation also always needs to strive for resonance with the target audience (how could it not?). Equivalence is a well-known concept in translation science, but more recent in this field is the Skopos theory, which focuses on functional appropriateness instead of linguistic equivalence. So modern translation strategies actually place a larger focus on the target text – something that is important in transcreation as well.

    Creativity is also constantly needed to some degree in „regular“ translation. Some examples:

    – deciding whether a translation should lean towards the source or target culture o deciding whether to keep the ST function or whether a different function is needed o should the text focus on being comprehensible or accurate?
    -How to deal with new/unknown concepts/terminology?
    – And of course cultural differences etc.

    I think the problem of translation is already in its name, meaning to transfer, bringing something from a to B. It conjures up the image of a purely mechanical task – just take a dictionary and transport the source to the target text, while in most cases, there are more complex cognitive processes involved when doing a translation. So, to make a long story short, I would argue that in a more modern (scientific) definition of translation, transcreation is already included – because finding creative solutions, prioritizing the target text purpose over faithfulness to the source text, adapting the source text were necessary to cultural and market requirements are things that are natural to regular translations as well (although I know a lot of translators in reality are unfortunately not confident to go down this route).

    The defining factor of transcreation in our industry context is then maybe the marketing/advertising aspect (and maybe a higher “disregard” of the source text). I think the positioning of transcreation as a service is mostly commercially motivated in that it tries to distinguish itself from the „standard“ translation service you get in the industry (300 words per hour, often work for agencies or on very different texts where you cannot really strategically consult with the end client). It‘s a way to position a premium service that redefines the valuable role of the translator. So, by any means, sorry for this small rant! But it’s a topic I am also interested in and where I am always greatful to receive new input. 🙂 Hope you have a great day and greetings from Germany!

      • Avatar for Johannes
        Johannes 4:33 pm

        Hi Maria, thanks so much for your detailed and very insightful answer, I appreciate it very much!

        Here are some final thoughts to conclude from my side:
        To add to the topic of the „underrated“ image of translation in the industry: I think an imprecise definition here and there wouldn‘t be much of a problem. However, I see that many clients also have this view of translation (esp. since the advent of neural MT). And even a considerable number of translators work with this attitude. They don‘t consult much with the client, they don‘t properly analyze the source text, they are not confident to make text adaptions according to cultural or situational requirements (of course, there are often understandable financial reasons for rushing through jobs, resulting in the necessity to produce a high words-per-hour throughput). I would only like to encourage translators to gain a broader view of translation again and have more fun with all the many awesome aspects of the job: to work in-dept with language and cultural subtleties, focus on quality instead of quantity, become a trusted multilingual expert for businesses. Because translators who translate like machines are now being pushed out of the industry or have to work as post editors – I know a few in my surroundings as well.

        I also agree with your definition of „creative translation“. I would also like to highlight the difference between finding creative solutions/methods to linguistic problems and employing creative language. Translating a poem, you come up with linguistically creative solutions. However, the translation of a legal text might also require some creativity in regards to language: how do you deal with the Anglo-saxon concept of „tort“ in a German contract? Also, technical translators have to find more creative solutions to translation problems than one might think when it comes to terminology. But of course I absolutely agree that this is still a lot less than transcreation.

        Lastly, to the question whether transcreation is something different than translation or should be included within the concept of translation. I can understand both sides. From an academic viewpoint (without being a complete expert in the scientific discourse), my feeling is that many researchers see it rather as a sub-discpipline of translation, not something completely different. See Wikipedia on this topic: „Classically, in a schema dating from the 17th century, translation has been divided into three approaches: metaphrase (word-for-word translation), paraphrase (i.e. “say in other words”), and imitation. Transcreation is thus a variation on the “imitation” or “adaptation” approach to translation. Similarly, viewed in terms of the continuum between free translation and literal translation, transcreation is considered to be “closest to ‘free’ on the literal – free cline. The validity of transcreation as a distinct form of translation, however, has been questioned. While the term has been widely embraced by translation brokers seeking new business, it has been greeted with considerably more skepticism by professional translators.“ In any case, these subtleties in definition are of course not necessarily relevant to how transcreation as a service is perceived and used in our industry.

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