Trying to get to grips with Transcreation

So what is transcreation? From where I stand, it is a translation that captures the spirit and the emotions rather than just the informational content of the source.

Transcreation as a buzzword has been around for a while. It’s been the topic of talks and seminars and learned papers, and yet most people – clients and translation professionals alike – are still puzzled by what exactly it is, who should do it, and why anyone would want to pay good money for it.

So what is transcreation? From where I stand, it is a translation that captures the spirit and the emotions rather than just the informational content of the source; a transcreator is more courageous, more creative and puts in more of his or her own thought to achieve a desirable result. But rather than embarking on yet another elusive, pompous or far-fetched definition or attempting to set out guidelines of how to go about transcreation, what I propose is a little series of examples of what transcreators are being asked to do, and provide some illustrations of where transcreation comes into play.

At ALPHA we have a Lifestyle team. They are the group that regularly gets requests for transcreation. However, if you think that they stop at producing foreign-language copy about diamond-studded skirts, piped cotton gabardine trench coats and limited edition silk shawls you’d be surprised to hear that this is not the case. In fact, our creative minds are diverted into all sorts of areas. A few weeks back, just as we were all retreating into Covid-19-induced isolation, we were faced with something that posed a real challenge. To do with that favourite animal of some of us – the cat.

And because we are cat lovers, in this particular case we were able to bring to the challenge that all-important criterion for a successful transcreation that, sadly, does not get much attention. In fact, I have only seen one company’s website that mentions it when defining transcreation and differentiating it from translation. I am talking about Love. Yes, you heard me right. For successful transcreation you are not just looking for subject-matter expertise and linguistic talent. For true and effective transcreation you need love, passion and enthusiasm. Those are in fact the main criteria.

So here we were asked to come up with the transcreation of a slogan for cat litter. Very close to our hearts. In this case we were not asked to make it rhyme, or given any particular instructions, or a briefing (one of the essential requirements for a successful transcreation). Still, we were given a picture and it was fairly clear who the target audience is – so off to a good start!

As with all slogans, taglines or headings, a straightforward translation is not typically quite what your client is after. Nevertheless you start experimenting with the closest possible match. For German therefore “Katzenstreu leicht gemacht” was right up there in first place. With transcreation, however, you don’t want to go with your first idea, you want to play around, experiment, perhaps test it on a colleague. But being in lockdown, with no colleagues around, I decided to put to the test a function I discovered a few weeks earlier on the web: an automatic slogan generator. Because most automated things work best with English, I thought I’d try it with that language first to see the results. After entering “cat litter” into the search field, I was rewarded with this resonse in less than 10 seconds: “We generated 1,076 slogans containing cat litter.” – Wow! That was certainly impressive.

See for yourself. I hope you will find these few examples as inspirational as I did:

I saw cat litter and I thought of you
And on the eighth day, god created Cat litter.
Naughty, but Cat litter.
Think positive, think Cat litter.
Get Serious. Get Cat litter.
Melts in your cat litter, not in your hand.
Behold the power of cat litter.
Cat litter for all. Gonna be a while? Grab a cat litter.
Cat litter is forever.
Life is pretty straight without cat litter.
Make someone happy with a cat litter.
Cat litter outshines the rest.
Have a break, have a cat litter.
Make yourself at home with cat litter.
Put cat litter in your pipe and smoke it!
The lion goes from cat litter to cat litter.
A cat litter is forever.
Four out of five dentists recommend cat litter.

And on goes the list, 1,076 is a BIG number. But of course I was after GERMAN slogans, and surprise, surprise, came up with 1,076 in that language too: “Katzenstreu” in 1,076 variations:

For reassurance:
Katzenstreu fürs wohlige Gefühl.
Katzenstreu, der Problemlöser.
Fühl dich gut mit Katzenstreu.
Es muss nicht im Desaster enden mit Katzenstreu.

Proof of Germany’s obsession with English:
Katzenstreu, you see me rolling.
Katzenstreu, one size fits all

Proof of Germans‘ obsession with the Sch… word – for your special delectation:
Katzenstreu, nicht der andere Scheiß.
Katzenstreu ist der heiße Scheiß.

Clearly inspired by other brands:
Außen Katzenstreu, innen lecker.
Katzenstreu – wenn du auf Katzenstreu stehst.
Sag’s mit Katzenstreu. 

Inspired by sayings:
Ist die Katze aus dem Haus, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Katzenstreu.
Katzenstreu, gerührt, nicht geschüttelt.

Seriously, if you have writer’s block, SLOGANIZER might do wonders for you. But make sure you add the vital ingredient mentioned above. And don’t just rely on the machine, use it wisely.

Take-away: Successful transcreation needs love and inspiration. Play around, fool around. And before you start, make sure you get at least a picture if nothing else.

Take care, stay well, be creative.

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