When Proctor & Gamble first began selling its nappies in Japan, it applied branding that had seen it achieve great success in the USA – depicting the image of a stork delivering a baby, the packaging was intended to convey warmth and new beginnings to Japanese families.
But in a country which favours the tale of giant, floating peaches travelling down a river to bring children to expectant parents, the concept of a long-legged bird dropping a newborn from the sky just didn’t hit the mark.
It’s just one example of a brand not taking the time to understand or learn enough about a new target market – its nuances, colloquialisms and culture – and as a result, the campaign falling flat. And where that was an example of a visual translation, literal errors in translation for written or spoken communication are just as much at risk of upsetting the intended audience.
Eat your fingers off
For example, when American Motors called its new midsize family car the ‘Matador’, it hadn’t anticipated how that would be received in Spain, where the same word translates to ‘killer’. Nor had KFC realised that a translation of its infamous ‘Finger lickin’ good’ slogan accidentally became ‘Eat your fingers off’ when it opened its doors in Beijing, China, in the late 1980s.
Globally established brands with equally established bank accounts will use their stature to find a way of recovering from mishaps caused by very literal translations. But for smaller, newer brands who are keen to launch their products to overseas markets, a badly worded campaign or advert is the difference between make and break. When advertising your brand abroad, it is important to create culturally appropriate material that appeals to your international consumer base. And that’s where transcreation comes into play.
Falling somewhere between translation and foreign language copywriting, transcreation is a highly creative service designed to help international marketers craft sales messaging that is culturally and factually relevant to overseas audiences.
Typically delivered by translators with a penchant for marketing and branding, transcreators analyse every element of a brand’s English language marketing campaign before assessing the international audience the brand is trying to reach, the tone of voice they want to strike, how they want the audience to engage and the action they want them to take. They apply their understanding and knowledge of that destination’s cultural references, heritage, attitudes, dialects and the language that influences them, to create relevant content that will be just as effective as the English, hero campaign.
It’s a service we’ve implemented for global technology leaders, one of which required its social media campaign adapted for different personality types within the UK to be made relevant for audiences in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Global fashion search platform Lyst used transcreation to adapt its UK web copy to enable it to launch into the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, while an international food and drink manufacturer utilised our transcreation service to develop a series of more effective straplines for its crisp and snack products, after the English hero copy missed the mark in Holland and Belgium.
Our data shows that over the last five years, some of the fastest growing languages for business translations from English include Chinese, Latin American Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Hebrew and Afrikaans. These are the markets that are becoming more active, providing lucrative opportunities for businesses wanting to establish a presence overseas. And, increasingly, we are being asked to apply transcreation to website copy in order to ensure it is optimised for the search engines that originate in these countries.
Direct translations of web copy from English don’t always tally up with the search terms an overseas web user would type into Google, and as such won’t rank highly in particular territories. As SEO continues to reward web content adapted for spoken-word queries, a transcreator can help brands to saturate these markets with an effective digital presence by helping them understand which foreign keywords will perform best.
Making websites multilingual is vital, too, as in 10 non-Anglophone countries revealed that 75% prefer to buy products from websites in their native language, with an additional 60% saying they never buy from English-only websites. Interestingly, 90% of searchers say they don’t made their mind up about a brand until they complete their product search; so any website or marketing material that doesn’t appeal to their inherent culture and personality could lead to a loss of sale to a competitor who has spent more time understanding the market, and creating copy that’s relevant to them.
To get the most from transcreation requires a few key elements: time, engagement and most of all, patience. And there are a couple of ways to approach it; it might seem sensical for marketing teams to work together with a transcreator during the development of an English campaign, so the overseas equivalents can be developed in tandem. Though this route can be successful, it is the least favoured approach by transcreators; the strategy, aims and objectives of the hero campaign can become neglected meaning the native market is less receptive. The knock-on effect is that every international campaign that proceeds it feels the same impact.
A more effective way of working is to establish the language of the English campaign, and once agreed, allow for the same amount of resource to be applied to the transcreation project. Be patient; for your campaign to have the same impact overseas as it will achieve in the UK requires time to polish the content, ongoing dialogue between all parties and an acceptance that someone else knows more about the preferences of your target market than you do.
When applied cleverly and with a dedication to make it work, transcreation can be what turns a UK business into an international success. If you’re targeting an overseas market with your next product, think beyond purely translation and harness the creative and strategic thinking of a transcreator; doing so will ensure the first step on your international journey is less Spanish matador, and more killer success.