The Tricky art of Transcreation

Translation Scholar Elsa Figueroa defines transcreation as a process in which ‘’the translator is ‘given permission’ by the formulator of the request to create a new text that could be considered equivalent to the source text inasmuch as it produces the same or a similar effect on the target locale’s audience as it would on the source text’s target audience.’’ As she pointed out in ‘Transfixed: Challenges of Text-Focused Translation in a Visual Age’ (an upcoming article), any translation of ‘’Just Do It!’’ has to encourage the consumer into some form of athletic activity. However, to do this they must take into account the cultural values of the people they are selling to. This slogan works in America because of their ‘can do’ attitude and their American spirit. Not all cultures feel the same, she goes on to say: ‘’the translator would rather need to find an appropriate combination of words that together with the accompanying visuals would motivate the viewer in the same way as the source language audience is [motivated] by the piece of advertising.’’


The Role of Marketing

We live in a consumerist world; a world where 

people know what they want and how to get it. In this competitive society where multiple companies battle it out to sell their products and their brands they need something which will set them apart from the rest. This is where marketing comes in. One of the most important tools in the marketing toolbox is the tagline or the slogan (the former a brief phrase which sums up the company, the latter a phrase used with marketing campaigns by the company that often changes). It helps sell products by making people take notice, it’s catchy, memorable and inspiring. ‘’Just Do It!’; ‘’Every Little Helps’’; ‘’I’m Lovin’ It’’; ‘’Because You’re Worth It’’. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword. But how do you make your translated tagline mighty?

For a translated tagline to reach its potential a high level of cooperation between the translation team andthe client is required. This is where the experienced project management of a translation company comes into play. Here at TIL, we work closely with in-country translators to ensure a tagline is localised. It may only be a few words long but it is often built out of wordplay or specific cultural elements alien to a target culture and language – these elements require consideration and debate. This is where creativity on the translator’s part is essential, but not to the extent that the message is totally changed; the new tagline has to work in the same want-remember-buy trifecta as the original.

The Cost of Badly Translated Slogans

Many companies spend millions creating innovative and eye-catching campaigns in their primary markets but then fritter away their well-spent money when they don’t consider localisation techniques for an international launch. A badly translated slogan or tagline can cost a company its pride and reputation. A tagline should create confidence in a brand, encourage people to buy and keep buying, not ridicule the company, turning it into a joke.

5 of the worst examples to date:

  1. English>Chinese: ‘’Come Alive: You’re in the Pepsi Generation’’ became ‘’Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’’.
  2. English>Spanish: ‘’Got Milk?’’ translated in Mexico was ‘’Are you lactating?’’.
  3. English>Spanish: ‘’Suffer from diahorrea with Coors’’ was the translation of ‘’Turn it loose’’.
  4. English>Spanish: ‘’Fly in Leather’’ became ‘’Fly Naked’’ for American Airlines.
  5. English>Spanish: Frank Purdue’s ’’It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken’’ was turned into ‘’It takes a sexually stimulated man to make an affectionate chicken’’.



                                              “Fly Naked”


5 of the best:

  1. English>Spanish: ‘’Me encanta’’, McDonald’s ‘’I’m Lovin’ It’’.
  2. English>Spanish: ‘’Vívela’’, Coca-Cola’s ‘’Enjoy’’ which means ‘’Live it’’.
  3. English>Spanish: ‘’Desde el 1886 repartiendo felicidad’’, Coca-Cola’s ‘’Live it Light’’ which means ‘’Spreading Happiness Since 1886’’, the word for ‘light’ in Spanish not having any double meaning.
  4. English>Spanish: ‘’En Orange, estamos para ayudarte’’, Orange’s ‘’The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange’’ which means ‘’At Orange, we’re here to help’’. Not so catchy but a literal translation wouldn’t work as the company is not called ‘naranja’, the Spanish word for orange.
  5. English>French: ‘’Chaque jour c’est du Bonheur à tartiner’’, Nutella’s ‘’Breakfast Never Tasted This Good’’ which means ‘every day it’s a joy to spread’.

Coke                                                                                “Spreading Happiness …since 1886”

Address your Target Culture

In this age of globalisation we must encourage translators to develop new skills and to have a thorough knowledge of both source and target cultures. This is why working with native target language speakers is essential; this is the only way to ensure that a tagline or a slogan has the same effect on its target audience as it had on its source audience. In order to meet the challenges brought by our consumerist globalised world we must educate both translator and client about the importance of working together to produce a slogan that speaks to the culture it’s selling to. It’s about a symbiosis between client and agency, agency and translator; and ultimately source text and target text.

For more information:

Figueroa, Elsa (forthcoming 2014), ‘Transfixed: Challenges of Text-Focused Translation in a Visual Age’ in Norwich Papers, 21.




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