Transcreation: when translation is not enough

bocal de bonbonsWordplay, humour, cultural references: these key ingredients in marketing are often untranslatable.

The words can be translated, and yet the message might still be lost. Transcreation is the art of rewriting to evoke the same feelings in readers of another language. The text needs to be adapted to the cultural habits that colour their mindset.

English is the key to the huge doorway of today’s global marketplace. When clients send me a text to translate as the last link in the chain, I often say to myself, “If only they’d come to me earlier…”. If translation is born in mind from the initial concept stage of a campaign and alongside the copywriting process, the impact of one consistent message can be kept in two languages, for two different cultures.

Your translator is part of the creative team!

Transcreation tends to be charged on an hourly basis, like other creative services. Translations are normally charged simply by the word. Calculated like this, the five words of an advertising campaign could be “translated” for around 1€! But once we understand that transcreation might demand at least as much time, imagination and creativity as it took to devise the original slogan in French, it’s easy to see that this is not very realistic: who is going to spend a vast sum on gorgeous visuals with a seductive text, pay 10,000 € for a whole page in a newspaper, then cap it all with a 1€ slogan that falls flat? Yes, it might be utter madness, but it happens. If you believe your slogan is worth at least 20 minutes of quality thinking time, you do the maths…


II sometimes prefer to agree a fixed price for regular work (often a mixture of transcreation and more straightforward translation), or an all-inclusive price for the whole project. This allows clients to manage their budget without any nasty surprises.

I have adapted slogans for licensed products of global brands such as Disney, Oxbow and Hello Kitty.