By Delfina Morganti Hernández✍️
But is there any difference between marketing translation and transcreation?
And if so, “where's for you the limit between transcreation and marketing translation?”, asked me Barbara Allione, an Italian transcreator recently. Well, I’m glad she asked for my personal take on this one, because as she described in her email, “even expert transcreators don't agree on a unique definition.”
ONCE UPON A TIME... I HAD NO IDEA
When I started out as a transcreator, I wasn’t aware of the difference between transcreation and marketing translation. I didn’t even know what transcreation was until I was asked to provide this service for a cereal brand that needed to transcreate a few character taglines for their cereal boxes and merchandising. I had been working in marketing translation, but this was my first transcreation project and there were a few similarities between one service and the other.
Throughout history, transcreation has been closely linked with the marketing and advertising industries (rooted from these, even, according to some sources), and more often than not transcreation will require knowledge from such domains, so it’s easy to take marketing translation and transcreation as one.
But there are a few differences, and from my experience with localization companies, they are most likely to differentiate between marketing translation and transcreation both internally, within their language teams, and externally, with their clients.
What are some of those differences I perceive and focus on when setting to work in marketing translation or transcreation?
I’ll get down to that in a minute, but first, a word on ‘ the original’.
THE ORIGINAL ISN'T THAT ORIGINAL
I believe there is no such thing as an original in communication, language and literature. There are source texts, yes, but those are not, strictly speaking, ‘original’ texts.
As Michael Cunningham put it once, ‘all literature is a product of translation,’ since ‘the original novel is, in a way, a translation itself. It is not, of course, translated into another language but it is a translation from the images in the author’s mind to that which he is able to put down on paper.’
Personally, I’d say the same thesis is applicable to every text imaginable—every message, every piece of content of whatever its kind, is nothing but an intersemiotic translation (I’m slightly adapting Roman Jakobson’s definition of ‘intersemiotic’ here), by which signs from one particular semiotic system are rendered into another, whether it be verbal or non-verbal.
So the writer of any text is actually producing a translation when creating their source text: they translate or code their images, their ideas, the concepts they mean to convey into words within a certain language system. Aha! So the source text for us translators is not an original any more—it’s just the text from which the target text results. The translation of a translation.
1. THE STATUS OF THE SOURCE TEXT
That being said, marketing translation will require that the translator sticks close to the source text as in other types of translation. By sticking close to the source text I mean that the translator’s output will be judged based on the commonly used error categories of accuracy, mistranslation, addition and omission. For instance, if the marketing translator adds a sentence in the translation just because (and there’s no correlation between such sentence and the source text), they will be accused of being unfaithful to the source by means of an irrelevant or unsolicited addition.
However, such error categories, which may seem like an obvious set of categories for either celebrating or condemning a translator for their work, lose a great deal of relevance if applied to transcreation.
Because the apparently sacred question of fidelity falls to pieces when we move on to the shifting sands of the realms of transcreation.
As a transcreator, I am not only allowed, but also expected to stray from the source text. If someone asks me to transcreate a message, they will probably expect some major additions, omissions, rephrasing, replacing of cultural referents and shifting of rhetorical devices in my end product, the target text.
So here the traditional error categories that we use for measuring a translation’s level of appropriateness won’t do, as transcreation inherently requires that the source is taken more as a basis or initial input for rendering the message into a different language, rather than as the sacred original against which the target text will be compared, and to which the linguist owes their due fidelity and respect.
2. THE STATUS OF WORDS, STRUCTURE AND TERMINOLOGY
A marketing text may be anything from a case study to a report on marketing trends for mobile apps to an article on digital marketing metrics to a brochure for a new product in a particular industry to… The list could take hours to make. Because the “marketing translation” term is an umbrella term, encompassing source texts that are likely to be packed with marketing verbiage and marketing terminology.
As a marketing translator, I will have to create and use glossaries to do such terminology justice in my translation. Again, accuracy will play the leading role, and while I may certainly need to slightly change word order due to grammatical and style rules of my target language, I’ll still need to stick to the general structure of the text and reflect that terminology in the translation. Sometimes my clients will expect me to follow the source wording or calque acronyms where possible as well.
Transcreation will not necessarily require you to use marketing terminology in that sense. The kind of texts that are often subject to transcreation—from my experience at least—are not so full of marketing verbiage as they are of rhetorical devices that make it essential for me to focus on conveying the ideas, the concepts, rather than mirroring wording and structure.
This is because marketing translation, while not necessarily being literal, is used for more factual and informative texts which, despite being also appealing and persuasive to some extent, are not so often packed with rhetorical devices as the kind of texts that will definitely require transcreation in order to ‘work’ in the target culture. Which leads me to the third and last difference I will share today (there may be more).
3. TEXT TYPES AND FUNCTIONS
Marketing translation may be suitable for email marketing messages, product descriptions, reports, sales presentations, websites, blog articles and market research content, to name just a few examples.
Transcreation will often be used for slogans, ad copy, full advertising campaigns, storyboards, movie titles, subtitles, video game dialogue and any source text where creativity played a major role with the aim to seduce, persuade and evoke a particular effect among the target audience.
Figures of speech such as metaphors, alliteration, wordplay, rhythm, rhyme, irony, humor, paradox, allusions and other cultural references are often used in such texts in order to extort certain associations with a brand or their product, and ultimately lead to a change in the audience’s perceptions and conduct. Thus, messages that need to be transcreated prioritise rendering the effect, rather than the words or the structure of source.
For that purpose, a transcreator may be allowed or even asked to rewrite the source text, while a marketing translator would probably be penalised for rewriting the ‘original’ unasked.
Finally, a good transcreation may result in a text that looks totally different and independent from the source that inspired it, where cultural relevance of the target message requires rewriting the source. Conversely, if a marketing translation bears no resemblance to the source text, chances are your client will not pay for the work you’ve done; you will lose your reputation as a good marketing translator and you may have to do the work again and again until it meets the requirements of an accurate translation.
DON'T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS
Writing this article was challenging because the differences between marketing translation and transcreation are not always clear-cut.
For example, a project may require you to combine both service types when working on the same content or text.
Or your client may be new to both marketing translation and transcreation, and you may have to explain the differences between one and the other to let them have their say as to what they want you to do with their message.
Did you know about these differences?
I'm Delfina Morganti Hernández and I am the creator and host of Founded in Transcreation, the first podcast🎧 on transcreation, where I delve into how brands cross borders. Listen to the podcast on Anchor, Spotify and YouTube.