What is transcreation?

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about transcreation. Unless you’re a transcreator yourself or you’ve worked with one, you probably won’t have heard of the term before, but I hope that, once you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll understand what transcreation is and why it’s needed.

Transcreation is a portmanteau (mash-up) of the words “translation” and “creation”. In other words, transcreation is a combination of translation and the creation of brand new text, usually with the aim of convincing the reader to align with a cause/mission or buy a product or service. If you’re thinking to yourself right now, “I’m not entirely sure what translation is,” then I’d encourage you to first go and check out my post “Six ingredients of a good translation.

Given the persuasive focus of transcreation, you could also describe it as a blend of translation and copywriting (the writing of text for advertising and marketing purposes).

Finally, the task of transcreation is carried out based on a brief (background information and instructions) from the client (maybe you!). The client should make the brief as informative as possible, detailing things such as the purpose of the text to be produced, the audience they wish to reach, the tone of voice they want to use, the response they wish to elicit from readers, the values behind their brand, the unique selling point of their product, the media in which the copy will appear, the format in which they require the copy, any images to be included, and a contact for queries.

So, with the above in mind, we could define transcreation as taking a persuasive text in one language and producing an equivalent persuasive text in another language by employing translation and copywriting skills on the basis of a client brief.

At this point, you may wonder whether transcreation isn’t just a fancy word for creative translation or marketing translation, which do after all involve an element of creativity beyond conventional translation. Perhaps the most significant difference is that, for transcreation, it’s the client brief, not the original source text, that serves as the primary reference point.

While the source text is certainly thoroughly consulted and usually translated in rough draft form, the transcreated text may end up being quite different to it, with new elements added and original elements removed to produce a piece of copy that fulfils the brief.

When do you need transcreation?

According to leading transcreator Nina Sattler-Hovdar in her book “Get fit for the future of transcreation: A handbook on how to succeed in an undervalued market”, transcreation is suitable for any marketing/communications materials that have a major impact on your company, brand or organisation’s reputation and sales. Such materials include advertisements, headlines, slogans, blog posts, website copy, newsletters, magazines and corporate communications.

When you need to communicate with speakers of another language, whether company employees or potential customers in your own or another country, then cultural and linguistic differences can be so great that a translation just won’t cut it.

You may have even worked with a copywriter on your original materials, in which case you need someone with the same skills (in addition to translation expertise) to produce your copy in the language of your new target audience.

Linguistic differences, such as sentence structure and wordplay, are one thing, but cultural factors also play a huge role in how a message is transcreated for a new audience. Using the countries of my own working languages as examples, Brits tend to favour storytelling and informality in marketing materials, Germans typically want facts and figures to demonstrate what a product or service can do, and Spaniards on the whole prefer a less pushy approach when being sold to and display a strong affinity for familiar brands.

Of course, these are generalisations and there are no doubt exceptions to the rule, but having an awareness of the differences in mentality between cultures is essential to the transcreation process.

Examples of transcreation

Let’s look now at two examples of transcreation in action, the first involving German confectionary firm Haribo and the second concerning Spanish car manufacturer SEAT.

I’ve chosen Haribo as the first example due to its international presence and, to a lesser extent, the fact that I used to live just around the corner from the original factory in Bonn, Germany (but enough reminiscing!). Haribo’s famous rhyming German slogan “Haribo macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso! ” (literally “Haribo makes kids happy, and grown-ups too!”) has been transcreated into numerous languages around the world. I say transcreated here, as a direct translation wouldn’t rhyme in other languages (as in the case of the literal English translation above).

The actual English slogan is “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo! ”, which makes the children and adults the subject of the sentence (the ones performing the action), unlike the German, in which Haribo is the subject. In so doing, the English slogan manages to express the same essential idea in rhyming form.

The Spanish slogan “Vive un sabor mágico, ven al mundo Haribo! ” (literally “Experience a magical flavour – come to the world of Haribo!”) moves away somewhat from the content of the German original, omitting kids and adults and introducing the concept of “magical flavour”. Still retaining a degree of rhyme between “mágico” and “Haribo”, the slogan makes for a smooth read in the Spanish language.

In the second example, we have the Spanish car SEAT Leon 2020, which was advertised in Spain with the slogan “Nuevo SEAT León – Más León que nunca ”. To understand the wordplay employed here, you need to know that the car model “Leon” (accented in Spanish, but not in English) is named after the Spanish city of León, and that “león” (albeit with a lower case “l”) also means “lion” in Spanish. So, the slogan literally translates as both “The new SEAT Leon – More León than ever” and “The new SEAT Leon – More lion than ever”.

Clearly, the lion aspect of the slogan cannot be expressed in a pithy way in English, and so the actual English slogan, “The new SEAT Leon – Choose brighter ”, is very different to the Spanish one on the surface of it. However, it still manages to incorporate a sense of lion-like boldness by using the word “brighter”.

The German slogan for the same car, “Kraftvoll. Selbstbewusst. Connected.”, literally translates as “Powerful. Confident. Connected.” Aside from using English (“Connected”), a frequent practice in German advertising, this slogan also conveys a similar boldness and power to the Spanish original.

In both the above examples, it was necessary to move away from a literal translation to get across the essence of the message for a different market. In the second example (SEAT), the English and German slogans are markedly different to the Spanish one, yet still succeed in communicating its sense of boldness.

If you’d like more illustrations of transcreation in practice, experienced transcreator Claudia Benetello provides several fascinating examples from English into Italian that shed additional light on the creative, cross-cultural work involved in the process.

How much does transcreation cost?

As Nina Sattler-Hovdar concisely puts it in her book “Get fit for the future of transcreation: A handbook on how to succeed in an undervalued market”, the cost of transcreation is the cost of time it takes to come up with the final copy.

A transcreator will produce a draft translation, consult your brief, brainstorm ideas and come up with several options for slogans. They might also need to provide you with back translations (translation back into your source language, that is, the language of your original copy, for comparison purposes). They will then most likely offer two rounds of revision of the copy, based on your feedback, and may wish to sign off on the final proof as good to print (after all, errors can creep into the formatting process, especially where desktop publishers are unfamiliar with the target language of the copy, that is, the language into which your original text has been transcreated).

This process is essential to producing top-quality target-language copy for your company or organisation that resonates with your target audience. As such, transcreation should be seen as an essential business investment, rather than an expense. How much sales revenue will the final advert or promotional text generate for your organisation in the long run?

Taking shortcuts here is likely to lead to errors and could harm the quality of your copy. You only need look at examples of translation gone wrong to appreciate this. Take US brewer Coors, for instance. The company translated its former slogan, “Turn it loose”, literally into Spanish as “Suéltelo todo”, inadvertently telling its customers in Spain to “get diarrhoea”! This advertising error no doubt cost the company a considerable amount of time and money to rectify.

Another example of a translation fail is when US fast food chain KFC erroneously translated its slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” into Chinese as “Eat your fingers off”. You can imagine the marketing department learned a costly lesson there!

Beware a transcreator or an agency that charges for transcreation by the word. This suggests that they don’t understand how the process works and you’ll most likely get a poor result that could cost you far more to rectify than you’d have spent on high-quality professional transcreation services in the first place.

What to look for in a good transcreator

Since transcreation involves a combination of translation and copywriting skills, a good transcreator will be skilled in both translation and copywriting, as evidenced by such things as testimonials, professional memberships and portfolios.

The UK Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) allows you to filter for keywords when searching for a translator. By adding the keyword “transcreation” or “transcreator”, you should be able in many cases to find an individual in your required language combination with both translation and copywriting expertise.

A good transcreator will also keep up to date with developments and trends in their target language and culture. Ideally, they will live in the target market country you wish to reach, but if not, will use all media and information channels available to them to stay current with developments there. In short, transcreators are experts on your target market.

Additionally, a good transcreator will be a communicative individual who is keen to learn about your organisation, brand or service. They will clarify any doubts with you and work closely with you throughout the transcreation process in order to ensure that the final copy represents the real you/your organisation’s DNA, albeit adapted for a different market.

Finally, a good transcreator will fulfil a consultancy role, advising you on how best to reach your target audience and not being afraid to tell you if they think you’re missing something or heading in the wrong direction when it comes to your target market strategy. Of course, they’ll do so respectfully, taking account of your goals and needs. At the end of the day, the transcreator’s livelihood depends on them communicating your message as effectively as possible in the target language, so they’re very much invested in your success!


In conclusion, let’s recap briefly what transcreation is, when you might need it, how much it costs and what to look for in a good transcreator, and then consider where you might go from there.

Transcreation is a blend of translation and copywriting, and is carried out based on a client brief. A transcreator will typically produce a draft translation first, then put away the original text and come up with the transcreated copy, making primary reference to the client brief.

You usually require transcreation services when you have marketing or communications materials that have a significant impact on your company, brand or reputation and you need them reproducing for a new target audience.

Transcreation comes in where there are significant differences between the culture in which the original copy was produced and the culture of the target market for the new copy. In this situation, a translation won’t be enough, as you not only need to communicate meaning, but also to persuade and appeal to an entirely different audience, one that thinks differently, and has different values and cultural reference points.

The cost of transcreation is based on the time it takes to produce the final copy, not the number of words involved.

A good transcreator will be skilled in both translation and copywriting. They will keep up to date on developments and trends in the target market for your copy, and will be highly communicative throughout the transcreation process.

Finally, they will serve as a consultant, advising you on how best to reach your target audience and not being afraid to tell you if they think you need to change anything about your approach. After all, they want you to succeed!

Having reached the end of this post, you may be feeling you have a better idea of what transcreation involves and you might even be ready to contact a transcreator to discuss a potential project. Or you may first wish to explore the topic in more detail.

In the former case, you’re welcome to get in touch with me for transcreation projects from German or Spanish into British English for a UK audience. Alternatively, and for other language combinations, you could search for a translator on the ITI website, filtering for the keywords “transcreator” and “transcreation”.

If you wish to first explore the topic of transcreation further, Nina Sattler-Hovdar’s book “Get fit for the future of transcreation: A handbook on how to succeed in an undervalued market” covers the subject in a comprehensive and engaging manner, addressing clients as well as practising and potential transcreators.

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