Written on 19 October, 2019



Original: ‘Finger-lickin’ good’
Chinese translation: ‘We’ll eat your fingers off’



Marketed its ‘Pinto’ model in Brazil, where ‘pinto’ is a slang term for ‘tiny male genitals.’



Original: ‘Turn it loose’
Spanish Translation: ‘Suffer from diarrhoea’

These examples might sound funny to us, but spare a thought for those behind these creative mishaps. They would have had to scrap million-dollar campaigns and invest further time and money on fixing the negative image created by these translation blunders.

There is a valuable lesson we can learn from these mistakes – never forget the intention of the original message and research your target audience.

As companies become more global in nature, the need to overcome cultural and linguistic challenges to advertise their products or services in different countries is growing.

This is where creative translation of marketing material or ‘transcreation’ comes in.


Transcreation: Creative translation of marketing material

Transcreation means adapting a message from one language to another without losing its intent, style and context in translation. When a slogan is transcreated, for instance, it holds similar implications and evokes the same emotions for the target audience as it did in the original language.

Transcreation requires the original text to be translated accurately, keeping in mind other factors like culture, humour, context and local dialects. Your marketing material will not have the desired impact if the content lacks the understanding of local cultures, beliefs and values.

Why is transcreation important?

Because it will help establish your reputation as a truly global company and boost your revenues

‘Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline’; The Chinese translation of this famous tagline for American cosmetics company Maybelline moved away from literal translation. The slogan was transcreated as ‘Beauty comes from within, beauty comes from Maybelline’.

The translation for the word ‘Maybelline’ can be broken down into three characters/words, which mean beauty, treasure and lotus respectively. So the tagline emphasized the idea of beauty and also portrayed the brand as a treasure of beauty. The Chinese word for ‘beauty’ also sounds like the English word ‘may’, thus adding an extra layer of meaning to the translation, retaining the tone of the source message and conveying it elegantly in the target language.

Because you will be able to maintain the uniqueness of your brand and make it relatable for the target audience

When Xbox entered the French market, they didn’t go for a literal translation of the tagline ‘Jump in’; instead, they transcreated it to ‘Lance-toi’, which means ‘Launch yourself’. This way they still conveyed the unique message of Xbox while keeping the tagline snappy for their young French audience.

What to consider when translating marketing copy?

1. Idioms, humour and metaphors
Never underestimate the challenge of translating something that is funny in one language into another. Hilarious jokes can fall completely flat if translated literally. Similarly, for wordplay, metaphors and puns, it’s better to go for transcreation that takes into consideration the target culture and idioms. The result may differ considerably from the original text when taken literally; however, it will convey the intended message in the context of brand guidelines and local sensitivities.

2. Audio & visual aspects
Much like the written text, sometimes even more so, visual (or aural) elements are vital in defining brand identity. If cultural sensibilities are not taken into consideration, promotional materials can lead to negative connotations or very confused audiences!

In Africa, since a lot of people cannot read, companies normally put pictures of what is inside the packaging on the label. Think about what image of Gerber people in Africa would have formed in their heads, when the company started selling baby food there with the packaging featuring a cute baby!

3. Cultural discrepancies
To give an example of what can happen when you don’t pay attention to your target market, a popular brand from US, ‘Puff’, didn’t really gain traction on the German market. It was only later that the company realised that ‘Puff’, in colloquial German, means ‘brothel’!

But these are not the only challenges in translation of marketing material. There are also technical aspects to consider.

Technical considerations

It may well be the case that your creative department or agency will not be comfortable or skilled in working with the languages into which you want your marketing collateral translated. Even if they have the translated text back, it can be daunting for them to typeset in terms of ensuring everything is in the right place.

If you are outsourcing it all, you need to make sure the translation agency or translator is competent in transcreation; equally important is being technically equipped to work directly with the design files or your website’s CMS (Content Management System).

With Surrey Translation Bureau, you can send us the artwork files, login details for the platform or just the hyperlink to your website and we’ll translate it all. We can upload the translated content directly to your website (with access) and deliver print-ready files for your marketing material.

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