Marketing translation: bridging the language gap

By Acclaro
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Marketing translation: bridging the language gap

5 steps and 5 principles for translating marketing campaigns

The success of your global products and services often hinges on effective marketing materials, from brochures to ad campaigns to websites. How do you ensure that each translated campaign maintains the impact of the original? And how do you name products, translate idioms, and maintain consistency across language markets without generating new creative, photography, and design costs for each market?

Enter marketing “transcreation” — the process of linguistic and cultural translation to create campaigns that speak directly to your target languages. Here is a step-by-step guide to making sure your product sells just as well in Buenos Aires as it does in Beijing or Boston.

5 transcreation steps to success

  1. Begin assessing your campaign and content. Evaluate the goals of the campaign and, if it’s already at play in a market, take a close look at the concepts, graphics, and headlines. Assess the cultural relevance and appropriateness of each element to see if it sets up your campaign for success across cultures.
  2. Hire a qualified localization team. Working with a team that understands the source and target languages — including subtle nuances — is a critical second step. Target language experts will explore linguistic and cultural questions before beginning the transcreation process.

Example 1: consider the following text from the website of a renowned New York jeweler:

Ways to wear charms

All tied up
A jazzed up ponytail is sure to turn heads. (Visual of a young woman with a ponytail and a charm tied to her hair.)

In the loop
A charm snapped onto your belt tells people you’re going places. (Visual of a woman wearing jeans with charms tied to her belt loops.

Create a transcreation brief

This document summarizes fundamental information about the company, product, and campaign to ensure all teams understand the nuances of the language and business needs. It specifies the target audience (age, lifestyle, behavior, etc.) and the thought process that went into producing the original text. It also includes explanations on how to approach certain elements, such as branded terms that stay in English or have particular translations, taglines, and images.

Translation begins

A linguist translates the text to create a draft, working sentence by sentence to explore possible meanings of the source. This is an accurate translation, but it closely follows the original text and will probably sound unnatural. Its purpose is to deliver the meaning from the original copy, not to impress the reader.

Translation completes

The text then goes to another linguist who only works on the target (translated) copy. Following the transcreation brief and some of the principles described below, the linguist edits the copy until it fits the parameters of the campaign while sounding like it is written just for the target market. This may include suggestions for alternative images or concepts if the original campaign did not already pass through a global review.

5 transcreation principles to guide the process

Transcreation takes time

Exploring and collecting ideas, writing numerous versions of the same sentence, and performing due diligence requires time. Global marketers can consult with their transcreation team upfront to build adequate time into the schedule.

Example 2: take the following Acclaro headline and assume that we are adapting ‘we get it’ to a Spanish audience.


Ideally two linguists would meet and explore translation options. They would first brainstorm on the meaning of ‘We get it’ and create a few synonym phrases, such as ‘We understand,’ ‘That’s our business’ and ‘That’s what we do’ Then they would write down the many possible translations into Spanish:

  • Entendido (Got it, understood)
  • Entendemos (We understand)
  • Entendimos (We understood)
  • Sí­, lo entendemos (Yes, we understand)
  • Nosotros sabemos (We know)
  • Lo sabemos (We know it)
  • Nos encargamos (We’ll take care of it)
  • Nos encargamos nosotros (We’ll take care of it)
  • Como no (Of course)
  • Claro (Of course, it is clear)
  • Por supuesto (Of course)
  • Obvio (Of course)
  • Lo tenemos (We have it)
  • Es lo nuestro (It’s our stuff)


Once the linguists settled on the best options, they would think of each possibility with the campaign visuals and remaining text in mind. Finally, they would pick the option that carries the most meaning and has the desired impact on the target audience.

Harmonize images and text

Exceptional visuals paired with powerful copy create a marketing impression that motivates action. Translations need to reflect the tone and mood of the campaign images, which can be a tall order when humor and figures of speech are involved.

Example 3: consider translating the sentence ‘can your application bridge the language gap?’ with the image below

Acclaro -Bridging the language gap

Not all languages have the verb ‘bridge.’ In fact, some languages have to use synonyms such as ‘unite’ or ‘connect.’ Other languages will keep the photograph relevant by using ‘bridge’ as a noun and finding other ways to tie in the meaning. If a linguist didn’t see the visual that goes with the sentence, he or she might change or eliminate the ‘bridge’ altogether because the new language doesn’t have that verb. For example, you could translate this sentence as ‘Can your application eliminate the language gap?’. Or, you could present barriers instead of gaps. For example: ‘Can your application bring down the language barrier?’ (in which case a new visual would be required).

Think like a customer

All marketing rules that applied when the copy was written apply to the translation: the final campaign has to appeal to customers in the region of the target language.

Select the best option possible

In some cases, not all meanings in a sentence can be carried over in the target language. When wordplay does not work in a different language, the translator has two choices: stick to the original meaning and sacrifice style, or lose some meaning and adapt to the target language’s use and structure.

Example 4: let’s look at the example of our New York jeweler again:

In the loop

A charm snapped onto your belt tells people you’re going places. (Visual of a woman wearing jeans with charms tied to her belt loops.)

In Italian, a linguist will explore options to cut or keep the double meaning of ‘In the Loop’:

  • Translate ‘In the loop’ as ‘Per la gioia dei passanti’ (Passers-by will be pleased)
  • Or ‘Con stupore dei passanti’ (Passers-by will be amazed). Here, ‘passante’ also means belt loop.
  • Or discard the double meaning with ‘Se sai il fatto tuo…’ (Someone is tough and self confident)

In any case, a decision has to be made about which meaning to carry over. It is very rare that two languages have the same double meanings.

Helping translators succeed

Instinct may tell you that using good marketing translators is the key success factor. While this is important, even the best translator will not succeed without the right information, a collaborative team, and adequate time to explore options and fully complete the task. And, similar to developing your English (or source) copy, linguists will collaborate with you in an iterative process. The more information a translator receives up front, the less rewrites you’ll need later.

We are all refined linguists when it comes to quickly deciding if we like what we hear, and whether we are persuaded by the transcreated marketing message to take action. Having a global creative process that includes translation from concept development through local execution is the most effective way to create localized campaigns.

Find out more about our marketing localization services or contact us today to request a quote.

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