The University of Westminster is on Regent Street, just a stone’s throw from the BBC Broadcasting House to the north and Oxford Circus tube station to the south, where a throng of people exit to the point at which this famous high street meets another magnet for shoppers, Oxford Street. It was a November evening, at the start of the Christmas shopping season, and the area was heaving. An appropriate location then, I suppose, for a workshop on transcreation organised by the ITI London Regional Group, which promised to be all about the world of advertising. There were certainly plenty outside the grand stone building in which we gathered.
The speaker for the evening was our fellow ITI member, Adriana Tortoriello, an English-to-Italian translator who specialised in the more creative areas of the industry, encompassing art, children’s literature, film and, of course, transcreation.
But what is transcreation? That was the question we began the evening with, and it turned out — as Adriana explained — that there was no agreed definition, or rather there were too many conflicting definitions, ranging from “creative translation, as it says on the tin” to “it’s not translation at all”.
One thing you can say is that transcreation is where translation meets copywriting. And some say that difference between translation and transcreation is rather like the difference between writing and copywriting. Adriana quoted the words of Mark Shaw, author of Copywriting: Successful Writing for Design, Advertising and Marketing, who said that copy was a type of creative writing that required “the inspiration of an artist and the control of a craftsman or craftswoman”. It’s creative writing, but it’s creative writing to fulfill a very specific and detailed brief, which is provided by the client.
In the case of transcreation, your role has an added layer of being a cultural and linguistic consultant; you are required to produce copy that fulfills the same brief but in a different language, and for an audience who has different expectations, cultural traditions and knowledge of the brand/product. Adriana points to another quote, this time from www.articulatemarketing.com: “the goal of transcreation isn’t to say the same thing in another language. […] The aim of the game with transcreation is to get the same reaction in each language”.
Now that we have an idea of what transcreation is about, how does one go about doing it exactly?
An advertisement typically consists of copy (text) and visuals such as images and logos, and the copy typically consists of a headline, bodycopy and a tagline (aka “payoff”). The copywriter would be given all the visuals that go into the ad, plus “the brief”, which tells the copywriter about the company, the target audience, the brand personality (e.g., how does the brand speak to its audience?) and the focus objective(s) of the campaign. Adriana says the brief can be quite substantial, sometimes running to 20 pages, and can give you important clues as to the way the brand presents itself to the audience.
When you are transcreating rather than copywriting, you still get all this, plus the copy in the original language. Your transcreated copy may end up quite different from the original copy since your audience is different, but you need to make sure that it still works with the accompanying visuals and fits in the allocated space. You are usually asked to produce two or three alternative versions, each with a literal back translation and a rationale explaining your decision, i.e., why you chose those particular words.You also indicate which of the multiple versions is your preferred choice. One important tip: don’t charge by the word!
So that was the theory. Now it was time for practice. We were given two tasks: one of copywriting and the other of transcreation. Both were based on real-life jobs Adriana worked on many years ago (with the company/brand names removed).
In the first task, we were asked to read a brief and the bodycopy of the ad and come up with a tagline in English. We were encouraged to work in groups and brainstorm, coming up with as many ideas as we could. I found this surprisingly difficult – I discovered that I had a tendency to zoom in on an idea and struggled to move away from it. Brainstorming, I realised, was something I rarely did and I would definitely need to make a conscious effort to practise if I was to pursue transcreation as a specialism.
In the second task, we split into groups according to the target language. Unfortunately I was the only participant working between English and Japanese, so I was on my own here. We were given two ads to choose from and asked to transcreate multiple elements of the copy based on the English copy. We had to come up with two alternatives for each element, complete with back translations and rationales.
The exercises were challenging but fun, and when we ran out of time and had to wrap up, we made our way back out to the advert-filled streets of Oxford Circus with a much clearer idea of what working as a transcreator was like, armed with lots of practical information.