Adventures in Transcreation

How do you translate an idea? Global marketing often has to be customized to elicit the same emotional response in a different culture. That can mean straying from the original source to get the message across, and it requires deep familiarity with culture, as well as its language.  

One World

The Coca-Cola Company mastered the art of transcreation before the word existed, with deft marketing campaigns that have local appeal across the globe. A recognized industry leader in international marketing, Coca-Cola keeps its brand simple — happiness — and the vernacular local.
In 1928, the company marketed to China with a Mandarin symbol that’s pronounced Kokou-Kolay and means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice.” That’s more harmonious with the company’s brand than literal translations, one of which is “bite the wax tadpole.”
Coke’s durable “Open Happiness” tagline of 2009 was conceived as a more universal translation of the concept than “The Coke Side of Life,” which worked well in the United States. In its most recent “One Brand” platform, the company’s global “Taste the Feeling” campaign relies on locally produced media spots for culturally relevant storytelling that reinforces its brand message.

Same, But Different

“A diamond is forever,” the tagline for De Beers, evokes the notion of everlasting love in the Western hemisphere. In China, it was more likely to be taken literally; a diamond that lasts forever doesn’t appeal in itself. Instead, a Mandarin symbol was used that means “Diamond is forever, it will always be handed down (to future generations).” That had a charm that resonated with the Chinese love of poetry, making the desired connection with romance.
McDonald’s uses “I’m lovin’ it” in many languages, but it customizes its advertising to fit the culture. In Switzerland, where individualism is a value, a woman spending a few minutes relaxing alone is lovin’ it. On the McDonald’s site for India, the same tagline is paired with a family running errands together. 
In China, the word “love” isn’t used with the same ease. McDonald’s chose instead a Mandarin version that translates as “I just like (it)”, a phrase with a similar tongue-in-cheek effect to the Chinese ear.

Take It To The Next Level 

A skilled transcreation often improves on literal translation in conveying the essence of the message. When Haribo expanded its market from Germany to the United Kingdom, a literal translation of its jingle retained its meaning. But a transcreation made it pop more like the original German version, when “Haribo makes kids happy, and adults, too” transitioned into “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo.”
Transcreating Procter and Gamble’s Swiffer tagline, “When Swiffer’s the one, consider it done,” to a rhyming Italian version that means “Dust doesn’t linger, because Swiffer catches it,” made it more descriptive than the original.

Going “Glocal”

Starbucks has more than 20,000 coffee shops in dozens of countries, but each one is established as a local coffee house that caters to cultural tastes. The company adjusted the intimate scale of its cafes for China, to accommodate the cultural preference to go out in large groups. For Japan, Starbucks designs facilities in keeping with the Japanese aesthetic. When the company was met with a lukewarm response in Europe, Starbucks focused on supporting local culture, and franchised stores in the United Kingdom that create a more independent feel for the community.
Companies with a global reach connect when they communicate at the local level. That’s known as the “glocal” approach. Effective transcreators have to be as sensitive to local culture as they are to the marketing campaign, and as adept at translating creative concepts. The result won’t be a word perfect translation, but it will resonate the way it was meant to.


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