What is transcreation?

Great marketing copy doesn’t happen overnight. It requires multiple iterations of concept testing, rewriting, and audience testing. The process becomes more difficult when you’re creating content in multiple languages.

Recently, Brand Quarterly argued that there are only two strategies for localizing marketing messages: EITHER translate your English language materials directly, OR start completely fresh with a local advertising agency in every market you plan to reach.

Transcreation represents a middle path. You don’t have to choose between a literal translation and a whole new campaign. Transcreation engages creative services to deliver high-impact communications without delaying your launch or breaking your budget. The end result of the process is internationalized copy that expresses your brand, connects with your audience, and ensures that you continue to control the message.

What is transcreation? 

Transcreation goes beyond literal translation to capture the “feel” of the source, not just the facts.  The goal of transcreation is multilingual content with the same emotional impact as the source content. According to Common Sense Advisory,

“Typical projects that require transcreation include websites and digital campaigns targeted to other markets, ads that are based on wordplay, humor that is directly related to just one language or culture, or products and services that need to be marketed to diverse demographics within the same market.”

Transcreators are bilingual copywriters who use traditional translation tools to manage termbases and ensure consistency across translations. They begin by referencing the original marketing materials as well as a creative brief. Instead of translating the original text word-for-word, the transcreator freely adapts it to maximize local appeal and relevance.

Why would you need transcreation services for multilingual marketing?

  • The original marketing piece was created to appeal to a specific country or culture.
  • A cultural assessment of the piece has indicated that a straight translation might not resonate.
  • Your multilingual materials seem to be underperforming in certain markets.
  • Hiring an overseas marketing agency will cost too much.
  • You want to conduct a unified marketing campaign that shares an overall look and feel and reflects the brand characteristics you want to project.

Selection of transcreators

Translators should only translate into their own native language, using their linguistic skills to capture the nuances of the source material. In the same way that technical translators need thorough understanding of a technical domain, transcreators require experience with copywriting in their own language. In addition, transcreation requires expertise in local sensitivities, customs, and usages. At Scriptis, we work with transcreation specialists who live in the relevant country or locality, and who experience the culture on a day-to-day basis. Many expatriate freelance translators have excellent translation skills. However, they may lack perspective on the present-day culture and practices of their home country. 

Balancing global and local

A global brand needs to appeal to local audiences while staying true to the basic branding elements and message. Balancing local vs. global on multilingual corporate websites is one of the major challenges cited by corporate marketers. The same tension holds true for all marketing materials. You want to ensure continuity among messages, but you shouldn’t try to exercise a lot of editorial control over what the professional linguists do with your message. Instead, provide them with useful resources.

Creating source campaign materials

If you know that you are going to translate a marketing campaign, try to start simply. Instead of beginning with content that was clearly developed and geared towards a particular target market’s sensibilities, determine the universal message that you want to convey. Then use transcreation to adapt it into the various localized versions.

Many of our clients come to us after they’ve created a campaign in their home language.  The transcreator can advise on the cultural suitability of the source content. They’ll assess whether colors, graphics, and other stylistic elements appeal to the target audience, and they’ll raise a red flag if any elements contradict your intended message and offend your audience. A transcreator can recommend alternative design choices to strengthen the appeal of your content.

Brand guidelines

These include information on use of branding elements; a description of the brand “personality”; which terms should stay in the source language because they are part of the brand, and what tone of voice should be used in brand marketing.


Provide lists of specialized terms used in your industry, common terms that have a special meaning in the context of your products, and tag lines. Include definitions or explanations where necessary. Indicate which terms should be used as keywords or phrases. Over time you can build a very useful multilingual glossary, including the variations required for different localities.

Target Audience Identity

Let your translation provider know, as specifically as possible, who the marketing materials will target. Are you targeting Spanish speakers of a certain demographic, in a particular region, in a particular country, in specific cities?

Creative briefs

Provide a creative brief to provide guidance on style, tone, and usage specific to that particular project. Be clear: what is the purpose of the message? Are you raising awareness, improving brand image, or recommending a specific purchase?

Transcreation: an iterative process

Transcreation requires collaboration between you, your language partner, and the team assigned to the project. Appoint a person from your creative team or agency to respond to questions and give feedback on the transcreator’s suggestions about design.

Transcreation is usually charged by the hour instead of by the word. You can expect it to be a more expensive process than translation. Keep in mind: you can pay a lot to an agency to develop effective messages for your home market. You should also invest in making sure that your message works in every language.

The key to multicultural content marketing? Combine global messages with local ideas. The more you plan your messages with a global audience in mind, the easier you’ll connect that content with local markets, whatever the local language and culture.