Transcreation — (re)creating copy for international advertising

Claudia Benetello

Italian Communications All-Rounder

In an interconnected world where geographical distance is no longer a barrier to doing business, companies are increasingly exporting to foreign markets.

And when they advertise on an international level, they have to keep the meaning and tone of voice of the original copy in the different languages and communicate in a way that ‘works’ in the target country. That’s precisely where transcreation comes into play.

Transcreation is a mixture of translation and copywriting and it consists of adapting advertising and marketing copy from one language, culture and market to another.

Advertisements aim to provoke a certain reaction in their audience. For this reason, they may use unexpected structures, wordplay, cultural references, you name it.

But most of the time, these kinds of devices only make sense to the original audience. If they’re translated, they may not resonate with a target audience that happens to live in a different country.

In fact, they may miss the mark altogether and risk offending that audience, causing potentially catastrophic financial and reputational damage.

That’s why transposing copy from one language to another is more complicated than straight translation – the copy must often be re-created to truly resonate with the target audience.

Which is exactly what happened to Norton™ AntiVirus’ taglines ‘Boldly Go/Go Boldly, Not Blindly’ when I adapted them for the Italian market (read the case study).

To me, transcreation means: writing advertising or marketing copy for a specific market, starting from copy written in a source language, as if the target text had originated in the target language and culture.

Transcreation is not a synonym for translation because it’s a different service, halfway between copywriting and translation, and it’s not a synonym for creative translation either, because translation is a creative act per se.

In my opinion, transcreation requires four different skills:

  • language skills: the original copy to be adapted is written in a foreign language and it must be understood in all its nuances.
  • copywriting skills: the new copy must be as punchy as the original.
  • cultural sensitivity: the new copy must be appropriate for the target culture.
  • local market understanding: the new copy must be appropriate for the target market (e.g. should not use wording already used by the brand’s competitors).

While transcreation is different from translation, it’s not an alternative service to translation. When it comes to advertising and marketing copy, the only way to ‘translate’ it is in fact to ‘transcreate’ it.

There are cases where a faithful rendition of the original copy may prove effective for a different language, culture and market. But, more often than not – and the Norton™ AntiVirus case is a striking example – you simply have to draw inspiration from the source text and create a new original.


10th June 2017

Lindsay Deidda

Great post. I’ve tried offering this as a service (Italian to English), but no one seemed to know what it was. Someone even asked me if it was a word I’d made up. However, you’re right, it goes far beyond simple translation. It’s something I’d love to specialise in, but I think it’s still a fairly new concept as I can’t find any jobs advertising for a Transcreation writer.

10th June 2017

Claudia Benetello

Thanks, Lindsay. The concept might be relatively new to the Italian market or may not be known as ‘transcreation’ (‘adaptation’ being another term commonly used to refer to this service), so you may have to educate clients on the service and best practices. But as more and more companies go international, the demand for transcreation services will only increase, in my opinion.

25th August 2019

Karin Sander

Great article, Claudia. It’s sometimes hard to find the difference between transcreation and a good translation. The case of advertising makes it much clearer IMHO. Regarding literary translation I guess we must always retain the original tone to give the audience in a different country an idea of the culture and ideas behind it. Might also be true for a good or a service that needs the flavour of another country to be promoted.

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