« Cachez-vous des moldus ! » (“Hide from the muggles!”)
The word “muggle” as per the English language film would have sounded very strange to a French ear, wouldn’t it? So “moldu” is the creation of brilliant translators who broke down the language barrier to concoct expressions now integrated into European cultural heritage! This is what we call transcreation.
But what is transcreation?
Its origin is a fusion between the English words ‘translation’ and ‘creation’, in other words a creative translation. It is a process that seeks to keep the essence of a message while adapting it to a foreign language, a specific readership and a specific market. Broadly speaking, you will need to:
- Convey the main message of the original copy
- Take into account the tone and style of the original copy
- Enliven the copy with a touch of creativity by using emotions conveyed by words and imagery
- Understand that the original copy is a reference point for the new version, and should not merely be translated word-for-word
- Adapt the original message to the cultural context
- Use metaphors, similes etc. with caution
Transcreation is a genuine marketing tool. Above all it is a creative process that sets it apart from localisation (a type of translation integrating a cultural dimension to adapt a product or a service to a specific region). Its message is fully attuned to the target market, and certain of its ability to convey information that is clear and culturally consistent with the country where the brand wants to market its products. However, its use is not confined to marketing and advertising, but also in literature, for example, when it comes to reformulating terms, expressions, proper names and the like to adapt to the chosen language. The Harry Potter books or Game of Thrones are perfect examples:
- ‘Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Hufflepuff’ are translated into French as ‘Gryffondor, Serdaigle, Serpentard, Poufsouffle’
- ‘King’s Landing, Highgarden, Casterly Rock’ are ‘Port-Réal, Hautjardin, Castral Roc’
Conversely, Winterfell, the stronghold of House Stark in the Game of Thrones saga does not change in French. This is because in cases where the message or name has a strong enough meaning in the original language, transcreation for added impact can be unnecessary.
How does transcreation work?
You will need the following:
- A source text: a project requires a brief: a creative concept thought up by the agency or the advertiser
- Good communication: the agency and the transcreator must get on well and communicate effectively with each other, to ensure a broad understanding of customer expectations and of the brief
- The ability to make strong proposals and put them across well. Transcreators should provide several transcreation options, as well as an explanatory translation for the client. And most importantly, they must be able to flag up anything that must be avoided at all costs, such as an unwise image, a false friend or even more importantly any connotations that could offend the sensibilities of the target audience.
What skills do you need?
A good translator is not necessarily an expert in marketing or communication, and therefore will not necessarily be comfortable with this type of exercise. Transcreators of the target language have lived in the country since early childhood. They have been immersed in this “soup” throughout their lives, have an excellent level of general knowledge (a must for finding inspiration) and have a good grasp of the current issues relating to marketing and communication, advertising and social networks. In short, they are smitten with language and its uses, always finding the word that hits the mark.
Hits and flops
Now you might see how transcreation can be trickier than you thought. The original meaning of the message may be misconstrued, or spark off emotions that are the opposite of those intended. Here is a short compilation of slogans that flopped:
- The ‘Mitsubishi Pajero’ campaign, which did not work in the majority of Spanish-speaking countries and for good reason: the word ‘pajero’, linked to the verb ‘pajear’, is the coarse way of saying ‘masturbator’. The vehicle went on to be renamed the “Mitsubishi Montero”.
- In order to promote a new line of vacuum cleaners, Scandinavian brand Electrolux launched a campaign in the US with the slogan ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’. The problem is that in English, ‘it sucks’ or ‘sucks’ can also describe something unpleasant, something awful, which gives the sentence an unwanted meaning. ‘Nothing is as dreadful as an Electrolux’…
- Pepsi also fell victim to poor transcreation. The international campaign “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” in Mandarin was translated as ‘Pepsi takes your ancestors out of the grave’. Now that’s going a bit too far!
Over to you! Here is a fun little exercise for you.
Can you suggest a good transcreation for the slogan of a world famous confectionery brand? ‘XXXX macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso’ which literally means ‘XXXX makes children as happy as it does grown-ups?
This article has been translated by a freelancer from Edit-Place Community. Click here to join