Transcreation vs Translation: What Are the Differences Between Transcreation & Translation?

They aren’t quite homophones, yet the words transcreation and translation are so similar in spelling and sound that they are often confused. However, they have distinct differences. In fact, when it comes to communicating intent over words – understanding the difference between translation vs transcreation is essential to success.

This article will explain transcreation, how it differs from translation, and give you a clear answer to the common question of what is the difference between translation and transcreation. Hopefully, you will see why transcreation is critical to genuinely effective global communication in today’s world – especially in terms of marketing communication.

What is Transcreation?

Transcreation was first referenced by Indian scholar Purushottama Lal, when he wrote about contemporary translations of the Sanskrit classics in 1964. He said, “the translator must edit, reconcile, and transmute; his job in many ways becomes largely a matter of transcreation.”

Transcreation is basically a highly nuanced translation that focuses on eliciting a specific response and finding the best way to recreate that in another language and culture. According to Wikipedia, the definition of transcreation is the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining the desired intent, style, tone, and context.

Therefore, the transcreation approach goes beyond simply communicating words in another language. You could end up with a very different-looking slogan or message when you enter a new market after transcreation; however, it will still have the same or the closest possible impact, both linguistically and visually, as the original message.

Transcreation vs Translation: What Are the Differences Between Transcreation & Translation?

How is Transcreation Approach Different From Translation?

Based on the transcreation definition above, the main difference between transcreation and translation begins with the approach. A translation takes content from one language and directly converts it into another. A translator focuses on the words used in one piece of content and creates the closest equivalent of the same content in another language.

Transcreation, however, is a creative rather than a literal approach to converting messages to another language. With transcreation, words and visuals are revisited and “revamped” to convey the same intent to an audience in another language.

Let’s look at a couple of examples where the transcreation process could have saved some seriously missed marketing efforts. Although these failed international marketing attempts are comical, the cost to the brand was probably high and could have been avoided with transcreation.

First, let’s look at an example from General Motors. When the company introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was unaware that the Spanish expression “No Va” meant “It won’t go,” which is not a compelling reason to buy a car.

Another example of a failed slogan translation that transcreation could have saved? American Airlines used the slogan “Fly in Leather” to advertise its leather seats in state-side marketing. However, when the same campaign launched in Mexico, the message, directly translated into Spanish, read “Fly Naked.”

Although these examples help explain the need for transcreation, they don’t convey the process and how it differs from translation. So let’s review the primary differences between translation vs transcreation as it relates to focus, costs, skill requirements, and more.

Need for a Creative Brief

Since a transcreation project involves converting emotions and intent from one language to another, the purpose of the message is more critical than the word translation. Translation begins with source text that needs converting to another language. However, transcreation starts with a creative brief, which outlines the purpose, goals, demographics, and other information critical to messaging.

Cost of Transcreation vs Cost of Translation

Transcreation services are typically more expensive than translation services. Translators usually bill by the word. However, since transcreation involves intangible details – like emotional appeal – and strategizing, billing by the word isn’t representative of the work involved. Therefore, transcreation services are typically billed by the hour or per-project basis.

Primary Focus

The primary focus of translation is to convert content from one language to another while avoiding any linguistic and cultural inconsistencies. The primary focus of transcreation, on the other hand, is to preserve the intention and emotion the original message conveys and adapt it to resonate with audiences in another culture.

Skill Requirements

The translation and transcreation approach to converting content both require professional translation skills and writing skills in the native language. However, the transcreation process also involves marketing and creative skills. With transcreation, one “creates” a message in a new language that gives the intended audience an equivalent emotional experience as the source message.


The objective of transcreation is to replicate content from one language to another using emotional intelligence, so the messaging in the target language has the same emotional impact on the audience as the original.

So, where translation services are well suited for converting informative text into a new language, transcreation services are better suited for content designed to trigger an action from the reader.

Type of Content Created

Translation services are well-suited for informative text like legal documents, instruction manuals, and white papers. However, when text is intended to trigger an action from the reader, transcreation is simply a better fit. Therefore, transcreation services are invaluable for marketing materials, such as slogans, social media, and ecommerce websites.


As we mentioned earlier, transcreation services involve evaluating the overall intent of content – like emotional appeal – and strategizing, so the process typically takes longer than traditional translation services.

Examples of Successful Transcreation

Earlier, we referenced some examples of brand failures when launching products in other markets, i.e., Chevy Nova and American Airlines. Applying the transcreation process to repurposing the message for foreign markets would have had better results for both brands.

To better understand how transcreation can work for a brand, let’s look at Mcdonald’s – an international company that understands the importance of transcreation in marketing to other cultures.

Take their tagline, for example. Our American version, “I’m loving it”, was changed to “I just like it!” for the Chinese campaign. Why? They learned that using the word “love” in public was considered offensive in China. Therefore, changing the wording to “I just like it” was a better cultural fit and conveyed the same emotional intent.

They also used transcreation when creating menus for other countries. For example, they changed popular item names to suit the tastes of other cultures. Who could forget the famous example given in the movie Pulp Fiction where John Travolta’s character explains that a ‘Quarter Pounder’ in France is a ‘Royale with Cheese’ because France uses the metric system and wouldn’t understand what a ‘quarter’ meant.  That’s transcreation in action.

If your company faces the challenge of communicating purpose-driven content in new markets with different languages and cultures, Dynamic Language can help you successfully achieve your goals. Our transcreation services combine translation, cultural consulting, and foreign language copywriting services to help you create culturally-targeted, compelling content that will trigger the right responses and help your company grow in global markets. Contact us to discuss your transcreation and translation projects today.