The term “transcreation” describes the process of adapting content for a given target audience to make sure that it resonates with the intended effect. To help illustrate what successful transcreation looks like, I’ll start out by sharing some fun examples of how transcreation is used within recent local and global marketing campaigns from some of the world’s best global brands. Then, I’ll cover the top things you should know about transcreation and how to use it within your own marketing localization efforts.
How McDonald’s Used Transcreation for a World-Famous Branding Campaign
The “I’m lovin’ it” campaign by McDonald’s is an excellent case study in transcreation, because it includes examples of where the message, visuals, strategies, tactics, and even the products, were adapted for local markets, while maintaining a consistent theme globally. This campaign was launched by McDonald’s in 2003 as a way to connect with younger consumers and create a more positive image of the brand.
I loved reading this article in Branding Strategy Insider from Larry Light, author of the book “Six Rules for Brand Revitalization,” and the former CMO of McDonald’s who launched the campaign, in which he speaks straight to my global marketing heart:
But, in many global enterprises, great talent is often hidden from view. In many cases, marketers may preach, “Think global. Act local.” But, in the case of US-based companies they often really mean, “Think USA. Do as I say.” McDonald’s was no exception. Our goal was to ditch this US-centric approach and open up the competition for the new McDonald’s communications ideas to all our agencies around the world. We were determined to leverage the power of ideas. We also were determined to break down the barriers to creativity.
The campaign was designed from the very beginning to be flexible and adaptable to different languages, cultures, and markets. Not only that, but he wanted to leverage local talent and creativity. Yes! This is the number one advantage of having regional marketing teams in the first place. Never underestimate what local marketers can do when they’re given permission, or even encouragement, to do what is best for their markets.
Here are some examples of how the campaign was translated and adapted in various countries.
In France, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign was adapted to suit the local language, culture, and lifestyle. The tagline was translated as “C’est tout ce que j’aime” (That’s all I love), which reflected the French way of expressing appreciation for the things they love.
One way the campaign was adapted in France was through the use of local celebrities and musicians in advertisements. For example, French football star Thierry Henry was featured in a “I’m lovin’ it” commercial, as well as popular French singers like David Guetta and M. Pokora.
In France, McDonald’s also introduced menu items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences. For example, McDonald’s France introduced the “Le Croque McDo” sandwich, which is a variation on the classic French sandwich, the croque-monsieur.
McDonald’s France also launched a series of promotions and events aimed at connecting with the local community. For example, the brand organized a nationwide music festival called “McDo Music Live” featuring French musicians performing at McDonald’s restaurants across the country.
In Canada, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign was adapted to suit the local language, culture, and lifestyle. The tagline was kept in English but McDonald’s Canada also used a French tagline “C’est ça que j’m” (That’s what I love) in Quebec, where French is the official language.
One way the campaign was adapted in Canada was through the use of Canadian celebrities and musicians in advertisements. For example, Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky and singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake were both featured in “I’m lovin’ it” commercials in Canada.
Another way the campaign was adapted in Canada was through the introduction of menu items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences, including menu items that were popular in Quebec, such as “Poutine.” Also, McDonald’s Canada introduced the “McLobster” sandwich in the Maritime provinces, where lobster is a popular seafood.
McDonald’s Canada also launched a series of promotions and events aimed at connecting with the local community. For example, the brand introduced the “McHappy Day” event, where a portion of the proceeds from select menu items were donated to local children’s charities.
In China, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign was adapted to suit the local language, culture, and lifestyle. The tagline was translated as “我就喜欢” (I just like it), which reflected the Chinese way of expressing preference in a simple and direct manner.
One way the campaign was adapted in China was through the use of Chinese celebrities and musicians in advertisements. For example, the Chinese singer and actor Aaron Kwok was featured in a “I’m lovin’ it” commercial, as well as other popular Chinese celebrities.
Another way the campaign was adapted in China was through the introduction of menu items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences. For example, McDonald’s China introduced the “McSpicy” chicken sandwich, which is a spicy variation of their classic chicken sandwich, to cater to the Chinese love for spicy food.
McDonald’s China also launched a series of promotions and events aimed at connecting with the local community. For example, the brand introduced the “McDonald’s Carnival” event, which included music, dance, and other entertainment activities in select McDonald’s restaurants across the country.
In Germany, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign was kept in English but was complemented with the German tagline “Ich liebe es” (I love it). One way the campaign was adapted in Germany was through the introduction of menu items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences. For example, McDonald’s Germany introduced the “McCurrywurst”, which is a sausage topped with curry sauce, as a menu item that reflected the local food culture.
Another way the campaign was adapted in Germany was through the use of German celebrities and musicians in advertisements. For example, the German rapper Sido was featured in “I’m lovin’ it” commercials in Germany, as well as other popular German celebrities.
McDonald’s Germany also launched a series of promotions and events aimed at connecting with the local community. For example, the brand introduced the “McDonald’s Kinderhilfe” event, where a portion of the proceeds from select menu items were donated to local children’s charities.
In Brazil, the “I’m lovin’ it” ctagline was translated as “Amo muito tudo isso” (I love everything about it), which emphasized the variety and quality of McDonald’s menu items, but also reflected the Brazilian way of expressing emotions in a passionate and enthusiastic way.
McDonald’s Brazil also launched a campaign featuring Brazilian singer Ivete Sangalo, who recorded a version of the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle with Portuguese lyrics. This campaign was a huge success and helped to reinforce the brand’s popularity among young Brazilian consumers.
The local menu in Brazil also included items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences, such as the “Pão de Queijo” (cheese bread) and the “McPicanha” (a burger made with Brazilian-style beef).
In Japan, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign was adapted to appeal to the country’s love of fashion and pop culture. The tagline was translated as “Suki da yo” (I love it), and the campaign featured Japanese pop star “Namie Amuro” in a series of ads.
One way the campaign was adapted in Japan was through the introduction of menu items that were specifically designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences. For example, McDonald’s Japan introduced the “Teriyaki Burger” and the “Ebi Filet-O” (shrimp burger), which are both popular menu items in Japan.
In addition to these adaptations, McDonald’s Japan also launched a series of promotions and events aimed at connecting with the local community. For example, the brand introduced the “Big America” promotion, which offered a range of burgers inspired by iconic American locations such as Texas and New York.
Overall, the “I’m lovin’ it” campaign has been successful in creating a consistent and recognizable brand image for McDonald’s across different countries and cultures. By adapting the campaign to local tastes and preferences, McDonald’s has been able to connect with consumers in diverse markets and build a loyal customer base in many countries around the world.
How SAP Transcreated Its “Run Simple” Campaign for Local Marketing Success
Often, B2B marketers believe that transcreation is only necessary for B2C settings. That couldn’t be further from the truth! B2B products and services, and the buyer profile, is often more complex, which means that cultural differences can abound. As a result, transcreation for B2B marketing is becoming more common. One of my favorite examples of transcreation in B2B marketing is SAP’s well-known “Run Simple” campaign, which was adapted for many other languages and countries:
- China. In China, the “Run Simple” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Run Live” (奔跑即生命). This adaptation aimed to reflect the speed and agility of SAP’s products and services and the company’s commitment to helping Chinese businesses succeed.
- Japan. In Japan, the “Run Simple” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Run Easy” or “Kansō ni Hashire” (簡単に走れ). This adaptation emphasized the simplicity and ease of using SAP’s products and services, encouraging Japanese businesses to streamline their operations and achieve greater efficiency.
- Germany. In SAP’s home country of Germany, the “Run Simple” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Einfach Machen” (Just Do It). This adaptation emphasized the importance of taking action and getting things done, aligning with the German cultural value of efficiency.
- Brazil. In Brazil, the “Run Simple” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Simples Assim” (That Simple). This adaptation emphasized the simplicity of using SAP’s products and services and the company’s commitment to helping Brazilian businesses succeed.
- France. In France, the “Run Simple” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Rien de plus simple” (Nothing could be simpler). This adaptation emphasized the ease and simplicity of using SAP’s products and services and the company’s commitment to helping French businesses achieve greater efficiency and success.
In each of these adaptations, SAP tailored the messaging and visuals of the campaign to resonate with each local audience, highlighting local success stories and industry-specific challenges.
How Siemens Used Transcreation with its “Ingenuity for Life” Campaign
Another good example of transcreation marketing teams can learn from in B2B settings is the Siemens’ “Ingenuity for Life” campaign, which was adapted for many other languages and countries:
- United States. In the US, the “Ingenuity for Life” campaign featured the tagline “Ingenuity is what we deliver” and focused on Siemens’ commitment to innovation and technology that makes a difference in people’s lives. The campaign highlighted examples of Siemens’ technology in action in the US, including a wind farm in Texas and a light rail system in California.
- China. In China, the “Ingenuity for Life” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Intelligent Future, Ingenious Life” (智能未来，匠心生活), emphasizing Siemens’ commitment to innovation and smart technology that can improve people’s quality of life. The campaign featured local case studies of Siemens’ technology in action in China, including a smart building in Beijing and a wind turbine project in Inner Mongolia.
- Brazil. In Brazil, the “Ingenuity for Life” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Technology for Life” (Tecnologia para a Vida), emphasizing Siemens’ role in creating technology that can help people live better, healthier lives. The campaign highlighted local examples of Siemens’ technology in action in Brazil, including a sustainable urban development project in Sao Paulo.
- Germany. In Siemens’ home country of Germany, the “Ingenuity for Life” campaign featured the tagline “Ingenuity is what drives us” (Ingenious ist, was uns antreibt) and focused on Siemens’ commitment to innovation and technology that makes a difference in people’s lives. The campaign highlighted examples of Siemens’ technology in action in Germany, including a smart city project in Hamburg and a wind power plant in Lower Saxony.
- India. In India, the “Ingenuity for Life” campaign was adapted with the tagline “Ingenuity for India” and emphasized Siemens’ commitment to innovation and technology that can help address India’s biggest challenges, such as urbanization, energy access, and healthcare. The campaign featured local case studies of Siemens’ technology in action in India, including a smart grid project in Mumbai and a healthcare initiative in rural Karnataka.
In each of these adaptations, Siemens tailored the messaging and visuals of the campaign to resonate with each local audience, highlighting local success stories and industry-specific challenges.
10 Tips for Working on Transcreation Projects
Now that we’re inspired by what some of the largest global companies have accomplished with transcreation in their marketing efforts, in both B2C and B2C settings, let’s take a look at some important tips to keep in mind with transcreation projects.
1. Transcreation usually (but not always) refers to marketing content.
The basic goal of transcreation is to make sure that content you’re creating for a different audience resonates with your target audience similarly. Transcreation enables the campaign or content to achieve a similar impact on the target market. You can transcreate many types of materials, especially where culture plays a role.
For example, one project I once worked on entailed creating sample menus for diabetic patients in the United States. In English, teaching about white bread and sliced ham might have been fine, but for Spanish, this wasn’t really what people were going to eat. The content didn’t just need to be adapted, but rather, rewritten with the original purpose in mind, of educating the patient to control their blood sugars through diet. Otherwise, the patient’s health outcomes were at stake.
The idea with transcreation is that you’re not exclusively translating, and you’re not only adapting either. You’re doing more than that. In many cases, you’re rewriting from scratch to get the same concept or message across.
Many definitions of transcreation will have you believe that it sits at the intersection of culture, translation, and emotion. I disagree with this. Not all transcreated content is designed to evoke an emotion, and to cast it in that light is really too limiting. In fact, very few of the transcreation projects I’ve seen in my career actually are about the emotion. Transcreation is required when the people creating the source content have a specific purpose in mind that cannot be accomplished through translation alone. For this reason, the content must be transcreated in order for it to achieve that purpose.
Another project I worked on, also for an audience of Spanish speakers in the US, was for a major pharma company launching a bilingual website for a popular birth control medication. Among English-speaking women, the main value they wanted to convey was the convenience of the medication and how easy it was, less hassle for busy women.
In Spanish, the company also had to consider many beliefs at play about birth control affecting fertility as well as different pressures and religious aspects to consider. As such, the goal of the campaign for English was to convey convenience, whereas the goal of the campaign in Spanish was to educate patients about the safety of the drug. In that particular project, the goal was not to replicate a similar emotion in the other market. What we had to do was actually take emotions out of the equation for a market where the topic was more likely to be a tricky one for many women.
2. Transcreation may or may not involve translators.
Usually, these services are performed by a combination of native-language copywriters (also known as transcreators) and designers in the event of any design work. However, are the transcreators also translators? Not always. They might be or they might not be. Here are some of the differences:
- A professional translator usually has training and background in the fields of translation and localization. The translator must understand the source language well enough to ensure accuracy and completeness in the target language. A professional translator may or may not offer transcreation services, but it depends on the individual. Translators frequently, but not always, tend to specialize in certain areas, such as legal, medical, or tech. Nearly every translator can support cultural adaptation when asked to do so. It just depends on the degree of transcreation required on a given project, and whether they have experience in this area.
- A professional transcreator is usually a copywriter who specializes in the target language and in writing creatively in that language. Their understanding of each and every word in the source language is not really as important as their ability to achieve the desired impact in the target language, depending on how they are used and what job they are being asked to carry out. In some cases, the transcreator actually doesn’t speak the source language whatsoever. Some agencies employ people who speak the target language natively but have very limited knowledge of the source language. In some cases, they might not even look at the source text to ensure they can let their creativity fully bloom without “contamination” from the version in the source language.
3. Transcreation is billed on a per-project or hourly basis.
Most commonly, transcreation is priced like the services of most marketing agencies. You’ll need to pay for the time of all the creative services folks involved. Copywriting services are usually billed by the hour, as are those of graphic designers. The more creative work your project requires, the more costly it will be.
The project-based or hourly pricing model that is more common with transcreation is a really important distinction from translation. Almost every translation vendor on the planet bills for their services on a per-word basis. I’m actually not a big fan of the per-word pricing model that pervades the translation industry, because once you start digging into it, you realize that it doesn’t make much sense.
Not all words have equal value, and no translator actually translates “by the word” but “by the unit of meaning” instead. Words in isolation have no value when translated. It’s almost like compensating a programmer based on the lines of code they write, or paying a designer based on the number of virtual brush strokes, as opposed to the quality of their end product.
4. Transcreation services can get pricey.
Most transcreation projects cost a lot more than “straight translation projects” do — ones that have minimal copywriting and creative work requirements. Of course, you can get localization marketing and transcreation services from some translation providers, and some might even charge you by the word for it. But if you want a good end product, you will likely be paying more than you’d pay if you “just” request translation on its own.
Remember, creative work simply costs more. Human creativity can’t be automated. So, if you need highly creative copywriting, you’ll need to pay for it as if you would pay for any other highly creative service.
5. Transcreation projects often include translation services.
Here’s the confusing part. Transcreation projects might include translation services. In fact, in my experience they frequently do. For example, let’s say that you have a web page that describes a software product designed to help consumers do their personal taxes. Perhaps the tagline is something like, “Taxes, without all the effort.” But the body text is descriptive and simply explains how the software works and. what its benefits are. The more creative the content, the more you’ll need transcreation. The drier and more descriptive it is, the easier it will be to translate and the more likely you can use “regular” translation for it.
However, don’t let this tempt you to dilute your source content. One mistake I’ve seen is that when marketers finally understand this, they try to neutralize their English message. Don’t remove the impact of your words in English! You might be making it easier to translate, but you’ll be diminishing the effect in all languages if you totally remove the zing from the English.
If you really want creative services on some parts of your project, make sure to specify that this is what you want. Ask for the project to be quoted to include creative services.
6. Many marketers don’t realize they need transcreation.
Very often, marketers will send a project over requesting translation and don’t even think about the fact that much of their copy might actually require transcreation or creative adaptation. Just remember that if your project has certain elements to it that are highly creative, you’re likely going to require this service.
A good rule of thumb is to think about how long it took you or how much care and thought went into your copy in English. If the copy took some consideration and creativity, it’s likely going to require transcreation. Most advertising copy will require it, for example. But in the world of digital advertising, it really depends on the copy. Sometimes, paid ads are intentionally designed to look like organic results. It’s helpful when the translation provider knows this, and understands the marketer’s goal.
7. Transcreation takes longer to plan and pull off than translation.
If it took your marketing agency two weeks to come up with the right product positioning statements and refine them down to one page, don’t expect your translation agency (or freelancers or internal team) to turn that page around in one day.
Human translators can deliver up to 2000 to 2500 words per day as the industry standard (the higher end of the range is for languages that use Roman characters; the lower end is for languages that don’t). But that doesn’t apply to most marketing content, because marketing content is more likely to include copy that requires transcreation. It’s much more time-consuming to deliver.
8. Transcreation is often used as a synonym of “free translation” and an antonym of “literal translation.”
Translation happens on a spectrum. On the one hand, you’ll see translation that is extremely literal and word-for-word. Machine translation is notorious for this, although thanks to neural MT technologies, it’s improving. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll find translation that gives the translator a lot of creative freedom, which is sometimes referred to as free translation.
The idea of free translation (or maybe it should be freeing translation or “translation that frees the translator”) is in the vein of transcreation. But in my opinion, it’s not entirely the same thing, but the two bleed together at the end of the day. In academic theory and the field of translation studies, “free translation” is meant to be similar to transcreation. But out there in the business world, no one really talks about “free translation” unless they are talking about machine translation, in which case they mean “free of charge.”
9. There’s a lot of debate about transcreation and what it means.
I wish marketers did not need to care about this, but in reality, you can’t assume that every translation agency out there really understands, or even cares about, transcreation. Most translation agencies you speak with will know what transcreation is, but they might not actually provide this service very often. So, if you really want this service, you’ll need to ask for it.
Some people in the translation industry will say, “but that’s just the same as localization.” Well, not exactly. The term localization comes largely from the software industry. But with more and more digital marketers needing web localization, you can have transcreation needs within a localization project. To me, not all localization projects require transcreation, but more and more of them do. And many transcreation projects have nothing to do with localization. Often, they are for offline advertising campaigns, and there is no need to consider a user experience, which is, for me, the end goal of localization. Also, until recent years, the concept of localization marketing didn’t really exist.
You’ll also hear many people say that transcreation is just another form of translation. That’s true as well, to a point. But, that’s a bit like saying “but an orca is really just a whale” is if that takes away the need for a word to refer to the orca separately and in addition to the term “whale.” Specificity does matter. Yes, transcreation is one of many linguistic services that a translation provider can offer. But it doesn’t mean we don’t need a term for it to differentiate it from other services.
What concerns me about transcreation as a term is that it’s yet another example of the industry lingo that people in the translation world use, which means it’s not very inclusive language. Most marketers don’t know what it is and therefore don’t even know how to talk about it or ask for it.
This isn’t their fault. Most people working in digital marketing are seeing their work unfold at a faster pace than ever. Their own profession is changing at a faster pace than ever before along with its own specialized terminology. They have very limited time for learning the jargon of another industry. This type of bridging communication gaps across two different professions takes time. Translation providers need to find more ways to reach marketers and communicate the value of translation services without shoving this jargon into their faces.
10. Transcreation helps marketers reach hearts and minds.
Of all the many language services that can help marketers really reach an audience properly, transcreation is chief among them. Transcreation is a tool that truly enables marketers to reach more hearts and minds — minds that think in another language, and hearts that beat to the rhythm of another culture. Transcreation is often included in marketing localization projects, but not in all of them. (If you’re looking for more info on how to localize content, you can find a more expansive localization definition here).
For this reason, while I don’t necessarily love the term transcreation, I do love what it enables businesses and organizations of all kinds to accomplish. It’s all about replicating the experience a person has when they interact with a brand, whether it’s as part of their product experience, their website experience, or simply their experience as a member of a given audience that someone is trying to reach. It’s another way to bridge gaps and get messages across, and in my opinion, a really important one for more people to know is possible.
Thanks, that really cleared up most of my misconceptions about translation