5 Transcreation Examples to Make You Smile or Cringe
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
What do you do when you need content converted from one language into another?
Exactly, you have it translated. But what if you want more than that? What if your content is full of spirit, and it’s crucial that the German, Swedish, Chinese, Dutch – you name it – text is just as engaging and persuasive to your target audience? That’s when transcreation comes into play!
What is Transcreation?
Think of it like this:
transcreation = translation + re-creation
At its core, transcreation blends translation and copywriting. It’s a creative process frequently used in a marketing context with the ultimate goal of conveying the original content’s style and emotion.
In essence, [transcreating] is rewriting taking inspiration from the original.
5 Good and Cringy Transcreation Examples
What does transcreation look like in practice? Let’s discover 5 good and bad examples that are sure to make you smile or cringe – the choice is yours!
1. Pepsi’s Spine-Chilling Ad
Why don’t we start off with a cringe-worthy example? We know that's why you're here, right?
In 1963, Pepsi launched a campaign with their slogan “Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi generation!” which was then adapted for the Chinese market. However, the back translation read: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” Talk about false advertising…
Not a very good transcreation but a killer example of what not to do!
The Thing about Idioms
Idioms are a huge part of transcreation as a literal translation rarely works. That’s because cultural references, humour, and taboos play a major role in making sure a message lands with the target audience. Let’s have a look at two common sayings in English and German and how you would go about transcreating them.
2. Index Fingers or Thumbs?
When you want to wish someone good luck in German, you could say “Ich drücke dir die Daumen“, which literally translates to “I press you the thumbs”. Now, how would you convey that same sentiment in English? Obviously, “I press you the thumbs” won’t work, no matter how funny it is. Of course, you could go with “I wish you luck”, but that’s too simple and doesn’t display the same tone as the original German sentence.
Luckily, there’s already an English saying that also references fingers, i.e. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you” or the commonly shortened version “Fingers crossed”.
3. Rain, Rain, Go Away
When you think of the most British sentence of all time, there’s a good chance “It’s raining cats and dogs” pops into your mind. Read more about where this phrase comes from here.
Let’s say you're an English umbrella manufacturer and want to set up a German website to target German-speaking customers. If “It’s raining cats and dogs” was directly translated into German, the result would be “Es regnet Katzen und Hunde”. Was? The reader would be confused, to say the least. And confused product hunters are less likely to make a purchase. To get the best results, you might hire a translator/transcreator to transcreate the original copy instead and arrive at the beautiful German equivalent “Es schüttet wie aus Eimern” (literally: “It’s raining like from buckets”). This transcreated copy will grab your reader’s attention and engage them emotionally. So, next time it’s raining cats and dogs, this well-advertised umbrella is sure to come in handy.
4. A Sucky Electrolux Slogan
Returning to the slightly more cringe end of the spectrum (let’s admit it, we all secretly love it over there!): Back in the 1960s, Swedish vacuum manufacturer Electrolux decided to launch a marketing campaign in English-speaking countries using the slogan: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. Ouch. Pretty unfortunate, right? Or was it? As it turns out, although this appears like a classic transcreation mishap, the Electrolux marketing team was fully aware of the double-meaning “sucks” can have in English. They were hoping this “edgy” slogan would catch people’s attention by making them laugh. And it worked! In the UK anyway.
When the campaign was launched in the USA, however, this slogan was widely misinterpreted as an embarrassing translation error and the risky strategy had to be abandoned to preserve the company’s reputation.
What this example illustrates really well is the degree to which transcreation needs to be about adapting texts to reflect the subtle nuances between different cultures as well as different languages. Transcreators aren’t just trying to communicate with their audiences – they want to connect with them.
5. Please Don’t Insult Your Colleagues
Why not try putting yourself in the shoes of a transcreator for a moment. What would you do if it was your job to translate the German phrase “Unsere Kollegen sind die besten Werkzeuge” into English? If you go for a really literal approach, you end up with something along the lines of, “Our colleagues are the ultimate tools”. Oh, dear! Anybody familiar with American English probably wouldn’t take this as a compliment. So, what are your options?
Basically, you need to start by identifying the message behind the original slogan. What this company is trying to say is that their colleagues are useful; that they help them to achieve their desired results. What about, “Our colleagues are the key to our success”? This gets the message across, but it’s a little sterile compared to the original. A better alternative would be something like, “Our colleagues are our secret weapons”. This is visual and vibrant. It connects with the reader on a more emotional level and that’s exactly what transcreation is all about.
Is Transcreation Right for You?
To wrap things up, the true advantage of transcreation is that it focuses on your goals as a business – the message behind your text – rather than just re-creating whatever you’ve written as accurately as possible (which would be a conventional translation approach). Not only do you avoid embarrassing mishaps this way (such as the examples mentioned above), but it also has a range of other benefits.
In a marketing context, transcreation is really efficient, because it means that you don’t have to hire both a translator AND a copywriter to re-work your text for your target market. You end up with content that’s ready to publish, ready to inspire, and ready to sell your product or service – all from a single source. Not only will you save on time and resources this way, but you limit the possibility of the original message behind your text becoming distorted as it passes through too many hands.
Basically, transcreation is the one-step wonder that’s here to streamline your workflow: a no-brainer for marketing content. If you’re interested in using transcreation services to take your business global and expand your online presence, then please get in touch (see below for details)!
This blog post was written in collaboration with fellow marketing translator, Stephanie Hancox. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her amazing work on this piece. It was a true pleasure working together! :)