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Similar words but actually quite different services!

Similar words but actually quite different services!

That’s a popular saying from Yogi Bhajan, spiritual teacher, and entrepreneur, who introduced Yoga in the United States; I’ve always thought that I quite agree with that statement.

“If You Want To become an Expert At Something, Teach it to Someone Else” is a good approach. Somehow that’s one of the reasons(there are more) why this blog was born 2 years ago … I believe that if write about the areas that I like, if I explain them, if I “teach" them …. it might not be only useful to some people, but also it might help me to practice this lifestyle promoted from Yogi Bhajan of  “If You Want To become an Expert At Something, Teach it to Someone Else”. Win, win situation, yay!

“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”

— – Yogi Bhajan

In the last weeks in different meetings/events I’ve been asked what’s the difference between translation/transcreation …. And the 4th time that I’ve seen myself in a situation sharing my thoughts about how these 2 disciplines are different I thought “Ok, I already know the topic of my next blog post” ☺️so here it goes! my view of how these services are different!

Let’s start with a definition of both activities

The term ‘transcreation’ comes from the Latin ‘trans’ (meaning ‘on the other side of’) and ‘creare’ (to create).It refers to the process of adapting a creative campaign into another market. A market that by definition will have different linguistic and cultural “rules” that it will require a change in the overall tone and brand approach global. 

Translation is a quite different discipline, according to the ATA (American Translators Association) Translation is the “simple” process of changing words from one language into another 

If we look closer to the definition the key difference of both services it’s in the word “creative”. When we are approaching transcreation the key is to allow total freedom to the marketing specialist to craft a totally new message, even if that message has totally different flavor than the original version. 

When we translate we look at the source text, and we find similar words to convey our message in another language. The output is similar to the input, but with local words ….in a transcreation to determine if the results were good we need to feel that the end result looks as if it was originally written directly in that language

Source: SDL International

Source: SDL International


The purpose of transcreation is to carry the intent, style, and tone of a message across cultural barriers, across cultural countries. We need to put a focus on analyzing the emotional reaction it creates. This process has the permission to completely alter the structure, images as long as it provokes the intended emotions.


And as a picture is worth more than 1000 words let me share examples of transcreation campaigned that they are nicely done!

Let's start with a great approach from the great team working at Smartling. They beautifully captured the essence of this campaign where they provided Transcreation services to SurveyMonkey, the popular survey site.

Source and credit: Smartling (www.smartling.com)

Here we can see that the picture of the model is different depending on the region. We have a model for USA/Europe market and a different one of the Asian market. Even the testimonials are different; this is a great approach took by the Smartling guys because a Japanese consumer will recognize and it will establish a closer relationship when s/he sees Muji while an American consumer might find that Facebook resonates more. 

The German company Haribo is a good classic transcreation example. “Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo” follows the same jingle-like melody of the German original “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso” (Haribo makes children happy, and grownups too). The company has then used the same jingle across the rest of its target markets. The tune and the general meaning is the same. But, it’s understandable, and memorable in other languages. So, we have:

• “Haribo, c’est beau la vie–pour les grands et les petits” (Haribo, life is beautiful–for grownups and children). French.

• “Haribo è la bontà–che si gusta ad ogni età” (Haribo is the great thing that you can eat at any age). Italian

Hopefully, these examples helped to give some indications about how what Transcreation is and what it’s not. Because although Translation and Transcreation may sound similar; actually, they follow very different processes, in fact, the process of transcreation is quite complex!

Below I prepared a summary of the 4 main areas to pay attention when crafting a Transcreation campaing 



Decomposition of the Transcreation formula

1.-Creative briefing (as a properly written brief is already half the job done.)

When we approach traditionally Translation/Localization projects a Localization kit is the reference for translators. But a localization kit is more like something to start with a source text. A creative briefing is different because we need to get ideas, pictures, even references to movies/songs. We need to be able to explain what the ideal output will look like and which feelings from potential clients we want to trigger. Which media channel will be used needs to be also carefully analyzed as the output we might get for a TV ad it will require a very different transcreation strategy compared to having our campaign launched in a newspaper. 

Source:SDL International

Source:SDL International

2.- Think Global but act local

Before starting the Transcreation journey actually, one of the very first questions we need to ask ourselves is if one specific campaign will be perceived as a good idea for some countries. 

We need to know that different countries have different levels of tolerance to politics religion, sex etc etc. So if we are working in a product that it might be a taboo or delicate topic in specific regions of the world actually maybe even better not to do any transcreation at all! Before doing any transcreation effort is important to test the concept in local markets to avoid future problems

3.- Who are we reaching to?

A campaign of a product targeted for geeks will have to have a different language than a product targeted to senior executives. It’s crucial to understand who our buyers are because this will affect the language we use. Advice: Get a persona report so you can craft your message and speak “their” language! 

4.-Align expectations

As explained before a Transcreation is a very creative approach, it’s freestyle, for this reason, it’s important to explain to the clients why certain decisions have been taken. If the final results are reaaaaally different from the original handoff it will be a very good idea to explain why those dramatic changes have been implemented. It’s important to understand the possible language barriers and cultural issues that have been faced in the transcreation phase. Explaining the Why is always a safe approach to avoid ambiguity and problems. Take steps to ensure that the global client is aware of the reasons that have led us to take a certain approach and suggest dramatic changes from the source content. We'll have to explain the cultural and language factors that determine us to apply a specifc transcreation approach.

In the previous paragraphs, I covered best practices ... but what's going on, When transcreation goes wrong?

Let's see some examples of transcreation campaigns that have had some final results .... well ...  very far from the results that were expected


Puma thought that it would be a great idea to create a limited shoe edition of their sneakers honoring the 40th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates; good intention ... but putting the country’s flag on the shoe was perceived as trivializing and disrespectful – shoe touch both the feet and the ground, and so are considered very dirty in that culture. Ooops ... 

Did you like that example? Interested in seeing more epic fails? Have a look at the Gengo blog. They have 8 hilarious fails!

Marketing messages are more effective when they reach emotions and are targeted to specific cultures. Transcreation is perfect for that

Transcreation goes beyond translation and helps businesses to elevate marketing on a global scale that will transcend the boundaries of culture and language. Avoid complications and embarrassment that’s associated with not understanding how translation and transcreation differs one from each other. That’s all for now… I hope that by reading this post you have understood how different transcreation is from translation, if so, Yogi Bhajan will be proud of me … as it means I understand what I wanted to explain a few paragraphs ago … that although translation and transcreation sounds similar actually they are quite different.

Have a wonderful week!

And the Oscar goes to Internationalization!

And the Oscar goes to Internationalization!

Defining a linguistic quality and review process - no more subjective changes

Defining a linguistic quality and review process - no more subjective changes