Marketing transcreation: the key to successful global localization

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What is transcreation, exactly? In 2024, you might see or hear this word more often in marketing topics to do with translation or localization.

‘Transcreation’ may sound like a buzzword at first, but it’s quickly becoming the standard in the world of marketing. Simply put, the industry is moving from ‘marketing translation’ to ‘ marketing transcreation ’ as the new key to global success.

So, what does it mean? You might have already spotted that it’s made up of two words: translation and creation. And it does exactly what it says on the tin—it combines translation and creative writing. In fact, you might call it ‘creative translation’. In this article, we answer some frequently asked questions about transcreation to find out why it’s so valuable to businesses today.

What is the purpose of transcreation?

The purpose of transcreation is to effectively communicate a brand’s message, values, and offerings to diverse audiences in different cultural contexts.

Translating marketing copy to the target language is only the first step. Transcreation also takes into account the culture, traditions, media landscape, and local influences of each target market. By transcending linguistic barriers and resonating with local sensibilities, transcreation enables brands to:

  • Establish meaningful connections

  • Build trust

  • Drive engagement

Ultimately, transcreation empowers brands to unlock new growth opportunities and expand their global reach in an authentic and culturally sensitive manner. In today’s globally connected world, transcreation is necessary for any brand looking to stand out from the competition.

What is the difference between transcreation and translation?

Translation and transcreation may sound similar, but the distinction is important, especially when commissioning work on marketing projects. Let’s break it down:

  • Translation involves converting language (text or audio) from one language to another while aiming to maintain accuracy and clarity.

  • Transcreation, on the other hand, is more than just translating the words. It also involves adapting the content to resonate with the cultural nuances and preferences of the target audience. Transcreation focuses on capturing the essence and intent of the message rather than sticking rigidly to the original wording.

Transcreation requires knowledge of the target audience and original work to adapt the text to their preferences—that’s where the ‘creation’ comes in. Although transcreation is more involved than simple translation, companies are finding that it pays off when it comes to marketing content.

Isn’t transcreation just localization?

Localization—a translation that is adapted to a particular location and culture—is similar to transcreation in many ways. Both practices focus heavily on a specific country, location, or group. But there are some subtle differences:

Transcreation is more creative

  • There’s a stronger emphasis on the creative, rewriting element. Localization can be creative, but the resulting text should more or less follow the same ideas and message as the original. In transcreation, the content can change completely, as long it has the same effect on the recipient.

Transcreation is more emotional

  • There’s a strong emotional component, which does not necessarily occur in localization. Because of its more creative, emotional focus, transcreation is more appropriate for certain types of content and not others (see next point).

Transcreation vs. localization: which to use?

  • Localization is perfect for content like strings in video games, websites, and mobile and web applications.

  • Transcreation dominates persuasive, marketing texts, such as brand names, slogans, and social media posts.

For example, the string “Enter your name and surname:” is a perfect example of localization. As opposed to a straight translation, it has to be adapted to the local context. Some countries lay out names differently or have more than one surname, but there is no emotional or creative component involved. However, marketing and advertising are more complex than this, and require a creative effort to achieve emotional communication with the audience.

What is transcreation marketing content?

Transcreation marketing content involves crafting marketing materials such as advertisements, slogans, taglines, and campaigns that are creatively adapted for the target market. It aims to evoke the same emotional response and connection in the target audience as the original content does in its native context.

Let’s say you have a brand whose target market is young people in the USA. If you wanted to market your products in say, Germany, India, or China, you’d have to do more than just translate slogans. The nuances matter in each market—the line between trendy and outdated, rebellious and conservative, funny and offensive, could be different from country to country. The youth in China will respond to different music, influencers, and messaging than those in Germany.

Transcreation marketing content, then, will change the messaging, imagery, and strategy to be most effective for the target market. Ideally, it will still convey the essence of your brand in a consistent way—that way your company is recognized internationally for its core values and selling points.

What does transcreation mean in advertising?

Advertising focuses on communicating messages through various channels such as print, television, digital media, and outdoor displays. It is the most audience-facing element of the marketing campaign—the part that urges the consumer to take action.

Transcreation adapts these messages to appeal to the cultural sensitivities, preferences, and values of the target audience. It requires a deep understanding of the local culture, language nuances, and consumer behavior to ensure that the message resonates effectively and avoids any potential cultural missteps.

Imagine you need your company slogan to be translated into Italian. You’d ask a native Italian translator to come up with an equally catchy and engaging hook to create the same effect—or evoke the same emotions—in Italy as the original slogan does in your country. That’s what transcreation is. It’s writing something new, in another language, while keeping the original purpose intact.

What elements are important in transcreation?

When using transcreation in your own business, it is best to start planning it from the beginning. Several key elements are crucial in transcreation. As you begin your marketing campaign, consider the following:

  • Cultural Sensitivity: Understanding the cultural nuances, values, and taboos of the target audience. Think: What do they value?

  • Linguistic Accuracy: Mastery of both the source and target languages to accurately convey. Think: What is the intended message?

  • Emotional Resonance: Crafting messages that evoke the desired emotional response in the target audience. Think: What do I want my audience to feel?

  • Creativity: Ability to creatively adapt the content while maintaining its essence and impact. Think: How can I improve this for my target audience?

  • Brand Consistency: Ensuring that the transcreated content aligns with the brand identity and values. Think: What is my brand identity and how will they recognize it?

What is the transcreation process?

The transcreation process typically involves several stages:

  1. Research: Gathering insights into the target audience, culture, and market trends.

  2. Briefing: Understanding the client’s objectives, brand guidelines, and desired tone.

  3. Ideation: Brainstorming creative concepts and adapting the message to suit the cultural context.

  4. Creation: Crafting the transcreated content, including copywriting, design, and multimedia elements.

  5. Review: Collaborating with clients and local experts to refine and fine-tune the content.

  6. Testing: Conducting market testing or focus groups to gauge the effectiveness of the transcreated materials.

  7. Finalization: Making any necessary revisions and finalizing the transcreated content for deployment.

Best marketing transcreation examples


Coca-Cola’s marketers have demonstrated their mastery of transcreation, way before the term even became trendy. Take the “Share a Coke” campaign, which was launched in various countries around the world. Instead of directly translating the English slogan, the company opted to transcreate it to resonate with local audiences.

“Share a Coke” shows how transcreation is much more than translation. For instance, in China, a marketing campaign targeted at youth used specific codes to communicate to teens in their own slang. In this way, Coca-Cola targeted not just the country, but specific demographics inside it:

The campaign also involved printing people’s names on bottles, encouraging customers to share a coke with a friend with that name. Names can be a sensitive subject—imagine how the common Spanish name “Jesús” could come across in English-speaking countries. Instead of simply translating names to their foreign equivalents, Coca-Cola prioritized inclusivity and personalized marketing by featuring the most common names in each country. This maximized the chance of getting any given customer’s name on the product and making an emotional connection. As they put it: “The purpose of the campaign was to create a more personal relationship with consumers and inspire shared moments of happiness.” Now, who doesn’t relate to that?

For the Lunar New Year in Malaysia, Coca-Cola also changed things up to suit the local culture. Instead of including a name, the branding was changed to reflect a wish for the new year. With different variations including prosperity, happiness, and other positive emotions, the brand fostered a connection with friendship and good fortune.

Just one of the many New Year’s wishes printed on Coke cans in Malaysia.

On the flip side, sometimes you need to get creative in your own language! Coca-Cola’s original slogan in the USA is “Can’t beat that feeling,” which didn’t sound authentic to more cynical English-speaking countries. In Australia, the company changed the slogan to “real taste” to better resonate with that culture.


The fast food giant’s “I’m lovin it” slogan faced a similar issue in translation—not every culture is comfortable with using the word ‘love’ in this way. So transcreation was applied to make it more appropriate in different markets. For example, in France, the slogan was completely changed to “ Venez comme vous êtes ” (come as you are). This slogan resonated with the spirit of individualism and inclusivity in that country. However, in French-speaking Canada, which is closer in culture to North America, a translation of “C’est ça que j’m” (That’s what I like) was used.

McDonalds ad in France


“Kids and grownups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!” The candy company’s jingle is famously catchy in English, and that’s an important quality to retain. But different languages have different stresses and syllable lengths for the words. In cases like this, you need to apply some creativity to preserve the catchiness. That’s exactly what Haribo did. Instead of direct translation, they adapted to a phrasing that still rhymed and followed the melody. For instance, the German version “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso!” (Haribo makes children happy, and adults too) follows this pattern. In Hungary, it’s “Gyermek, felnőtt kedve jó – édes élet, Haribo!” (Child and adult is happy – sweet life, Haribo). Haribo is a fantastic example of preserving brand consistency across countries.

Hear it for yourself below! Skip to 0.16 for the earworm:


The 2016 Disney film Moana underwent a transcreation for its Italian release, with its title changed to Oceania. The main character was renamed from Moana to Vaiana. Although Disney has not commented on the reason, Italians have a theory. You see, Moana is also the name of a well-known Italian pornstar, potentially leading to inappropriate search results. This transcreation was not only effective in protecting Disney from X-rated associations. It also effectively communicated its themes and characters. “Oceania” sets the geographical context, while the new character name, Vaiana, meaning “water that comes from a cave,” maintains the thematic connection to the original name's meaning of ‘ocean.’

They should have used transcreation!

Unfortunately, not all businesses think they need transcreation to get their messaging right in their international markets. And there are plenty of embarrassing branding mistakes out there to prove it! All the following mistakes could have easily been avoided with a little transcreation.

Car manufacturer Mitsubishi Motors learned this the hard way when they had to swiftly change the name of their Mitsubishi Pajero model in most of their Spanish-speaking markets, to the less suggestive Mitsubishi Montero. ‘Pajero’ translates to ‘wanker’ in Spanish.

An unfortunate mistake for Mitsubishi!

The banking giant faced a costly translation error when it tried to expand its “Assume Nothing” slogan to multiple languages. However, the translated slogans inadvertently read as “Do Nothing,” damaging the brand's image by implying inaction. HSBC spent $10 million to rectify the mistake, rebranding with the slogan “The World's Local Bank,” which was effectively localized. This case highlights the importance of adapting multilingual marketing to make sure the end result accurately conveys the company’s values!

The chicken chain has a global presence, with many marketing triumphs under the colonel’s belt. But it will never live down one famous blunder:

This sloppy Chinese translation of “Finger-lickin’ good!” inadvertently added cannibalism to the brand’s values—not the best look! Besides the extreme translation error, it revealed a lack of understanding of the local market. Finger licking just isn’t culturally synonymous with enjoyment in China like it is in the West.

Transcreation is the perfect antidote to these cringe-worthy, slapdash “translations” we see all the time!

Unleash your creativity! Getting started with transcreation

The above examples show how transcreation can mean the difference between a marketing campaign’s success or failure. That’s why it pays to start using transcreation in your marketing content.

Are you a translator and know your client is better off with a complete transcreation instead of a basic translation? Don’t be afraid to ask them if you can get creative to make it really shine in the target market. They will most likely appreciate your initiative and be happy to let you get creative for a higher-quality product.

Are you a business that wants the best copy for your international clients? Then ask your translators to focus on transcreation so that it sounds authentic for the target language and specific audience.

If you’re looking for cost-effective and reliable transcreation services, then Smartcat is a great place to start. Here’s how Smartcat makes transcreation easy:

  • AI & human workflows: Smartcat’s advanced AI translation editor learns from your preferences and brand voice, going further than most machine translations. Then human experts can check and perfect your marketing content for the target market. This user-friendly collaborative platform makes transcreation simple and helps you keep brand consistency throughout.

  • Smartcat Marketplace: Choose from thousands of transcreation experts with experience in diverse markets. Smartcat uses AI-matching to help you quickly and easily find the experts that fit your project requirements and budget.

AI-powered platforms like Smartcat make it possible for any company to have the transcreation expertise they need to go global. Likewise, translators looking to move into transcreation have the tools they need at the fingertips.

Transcreation plays a pivotal role in enabling brands to achieve cross-cultural communication and connect with diverse audiences on a deeper level. By embracing transcreation as an integral part of their marketing strategy, businesses can unlock the full potential of global markets. Move from translation to transcreation and cultivate lasting relationships with consumers around the world!