What is Transcreation & When Do We Need It?

Transcreation, or translation + creation, is the process of making an advertising campaign culturally appropriate for a target market. In this article, we discuss the main aspects of your global marketing campaign that require transcreation.

To launch a product or advertising campaign into a new market, marketers must first seek to know their audience. The language, information and marketing channels used to connect with an existing demographic may not work as well for a new target segment. This can be resolved through transcreation. One must first understand the target audience’s lingo, culture, history, social beliefs, as well as political climate, to localise one’s marketing campaign.

What is Transcreation

Transcreation of Text

The very name of your product or campaign is a good starting point for transcreation. Transcreation is more than translating creative copy to a different language; it is taking an idea in the original language and reconstructing it in a new language. When Coca-Cola first entered China, the product’s Chinese name was unveiled as ‘kekoukele’. On top of sounding much like the product’s English name, the four Chinese characters also embodied the notion of tastiness and delight. The transcreated term was such a success that the Coca-Cola brand continues to carry a unified message around the world today. At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, for instance, Coca-Cola cans and bottles carried the following message: “In Mandarin, Coca-Cola means ‘delicious happiness!’.

cocacola first entered china

On the other hand, Ford made a cultural blunder when marketing the Pinto. Since the Pinto model was popular in Europe in the 1970s, Ford conveniently launched it in Brazil under the same model name. Unfortunately for Ford, “Pinto” meant ‘small male genital’ in the local slang. Things only began to improve after transcreation: the car was renamed ‘Corcel’, which meant ‘stallion’ in the local language.

Though many global businesses today thrive in new markets without localising their brand names, marketers must also verify the varying pronunciations of the same name in different cultures. When the American brand Vicks introduced their cough drops to Germany, they failed to take into account the ‘f’ sound that Germans produce when pronouncing the letter ‘v’, which made for a rather vulgar-sounding brand name. The brand has since renamed itself ‘Wicks’ in all German-speaking countries.

Transcreation of Brand Visuals

Other than audio interpretations, the visual transcreation of your brand message is equally crucial. The imagery associated with your brand has to be localised to suit the local social and cultural context as well. When Nestle exported Gerber’s Baby Food to Africa, the company left the product’s packaging unchanged. This proved to be a catastrophic move as food packaging in countries with low literacy rates such as Ethiopia usually contained pictures of what the product is (this enables customers to know what they are purchasing). Unfortunately for Nestle, its product’s packaging carried an image of a loveable Caucasian baby. Imagine the horror local customers must have felt!

There are times when brand visuals also fail to convey an intended message despite them not being negative or offensive. Proctor & Gamble, for instance, advertised its Pampers brand in Japan using an animation of a stork delivering diapers to a family. Its advertising campaign would have been cute and successful in the West where storks delivering babies was a familiar folklore. However, the campaign confused the Japanese audience, who grew up listening to tales of babies coming from huge peaches floating down a river!

With increasingly diverse marketing teams, we can avoid these boohoos of the past by following the best practices of today. An effective transcreated message maintains the same look and feel, as well as meaning and context in its source language. Marketing and advertising professionals should also go the extra mile by evoking the same set of emotions through transcreation. While it seems challenging to devote time and resources in crafting witty adaptations for a new market, transcreation in fact presents an opportunity to think out of the box in superseding the results of one’s original campaign.


Have a product name or campaign to localise? At elionetwork, we help marketers create the greatest punch in their target language. Whether you are looking for tips or transcreation expertise, chat with us to get started today.