Transcreation vs. Marketing Translation? How to Choose the Right Approach
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Transcreation vs. Marketing Translation? How to Choose the Right Approach

Transcreation vs. Marketing Translation? How to Choose the Right Approach

Highly branded marketing collateral and web content are designed to evoke specific reactions or emotions from the buyer. We know that what resonates with one market may flop with buyers in another culture or locale. Enterprises want localization companies to create messages appropriate for the new market, maintaining intent, style, voice, tone and context as much as possible.

In a recent blog, we shared top 6 tips for creating locale-specific marketing content. We discussed transcreation, but there is another option when considering marketing localization, depending on your content.

“Marketing localization” is the umbrella term for a suite of services that drive the globalization of marketing campaigns, and it can include marketing translation, transcreation, multimedia localization, copywriting, and brand localization.

Learn more: A Practical Guide to Localization for Digital Marketing

Too often, “marketing translation” and “transcreation” are used interchangeably. Although the distinctions may seem subtle, it’s useful to understand the objectives of each service so you can have clear conversations with your vendors.

What is Transcreation?

Transcreation is a process whereby a highly specialized linguist recreates the source version to be appropriate for the target locale. They key term here is “recreates”, which means reinvent, create again, give new life to, reproduce. This does not mean that materials are created wholly from scratch but the source content can be changed substantially in the process.

Typically, the process of transcreation applies to taglines, product names, slogans and advertisement copy; anything highly branded. Transcreation can also be performed on creative briefs, brand and style guidelines.

The linguists performing this service are highly creative translators: senior, experienced folks with a mandate to create a deliverable that evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.

Spider Man IndiaWikipedia provides an interesting example from Spiderman: the producers realized that the American Spiderman was in no way a fit for the India market. They created a version of the comic book starring an Indian-born Spider-Man whose “real” name is Pavitr Prabhakar. Wearing a dhoti, he fights the demon Rahshasa against backdrops such as the Taj Mahal. This Spiderman is a long way from New York City. The effort enabled Indian readers to connect with Spider-Man and so they bought more comic books. Transcreation brought Spiderman to life for the Indian market.

In this case, as is true with most transcreation projects, it was not possible to maintain much from the source. The “essence” of Spiderman was preserved, but the manifestation of the character was quite different indeed.

Importantly, because no one can precisely guess the amount of time required to do this work, transcreation is often charged by the hour. It may involve two translators doing the same work and a reconciliation process. It also involves more iterations of review and perhaps deeper corporate buy-in to finalize the target market deliverables.

What is Marketing Translation?

On the other hand, marketing translation involves adapting a communication from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context. This process translates the text, but also changes the slang, cultural references, idioms, humor, and images to be more relevant and resonant with the target market. The key term here is “adapt”, not recreate. Adapt is to modify, alter, adjust, or revamp. In this case the original is used as source, and not just reference.

Therefore, changes may not be as drastic, and the end result is closer to the source. Typically, the process of marketing translation applies to web content, product descriptions, catalogues, marketing collateral, video scripts, and some social media content.

Marketing translation is often charged by the word, and follows the regular translation / edit / proof process.

Where Do They Overlap?

Both transcreation and marketing translation tackle the translation of highly creative language. They both aim to inspire the buyer to bond with the product, become loyal, recommend it to others, and of course, spend their money on it. Both involve a creative process: creating the original marketing materials was a highly creative process, and making them appropriate for a new market is no less so. Both transform the original messaging from its original to an appropriate locale-specific one. In both cases, linguists must have, study, and adhere to (where possible) any creative or branding guidelines.

Also, both services engage similar resources who:

  • Are bilingual linguists specialized in marketing localization
  • Are bi-cultural people who will understand source concepts and what the parallel would be for a new market
  • Have writing skills in addition to translation
  • Are creative people with the confidence to use their judgment to interpret the brand as they go

The key difference, then, is that transcreators tend to have more seniority and experience than marketing localization linguists, which corresponds to the greater responsibility and creative license to analyze and recreate the manifestation of the core concept.

How Can You Tell Which Approach Is Required?

Your LSP can help you decide if marketing translation or transcreation is the more appropriate approach. But beware that the answer may not be black and white. Transcreation and marketing translation reside on a continuum between the translation of straightforward content on one end, and copywriting, which involves original, from scratch in-country content creation with no source to reference, on the other end. Marketing translation is closer to straightforward translation, and transcreation is closer to copywriting. As a result, scoping these types of products can be difficult.


I have all too often seen work start as a marketing translation project and move into a transcreation project once all stakeholders realize just how complex the work is, and how irrelevant the original message is to the target audience. Sometimes it’s impossible to know until feedback comes in from the marketing linguists that their output is just not going to be effective without a different approach entirely.

Even worse is the situation where the feedback comes from users in-market after the piece is released. I’ve also seen a translation process forced, in order to save money, where a transcreation process was needed instead, resulting in a total flop in the market. In those cases it becomes clear that the project would have benefited from a lot more up-front conversation about the goal, the brand, the target demographic, and the source content itself.


When it comes to localization of marketing content, do you typically choose to apply transcreation or rather the more traditional marketing translation?