Marketing your business’s products in your own home base country is one thing. Marketing them anywhere else is something else. As many companies have learned to their cost, you can’t just use the same marketing techniques in another country, however good you think your products are. This is true even if there are no language barriers, but the necessity to radically alter marketing techniques becomes even more essential when a company is intent on selling its products in a country where both the language and cultural norms are quite different.


Brand awareness is very much part of marketing. The trick is to develop a marketing strategy that ensures that a brand is remembered so well that when a potential customer is searching for a product that they will choose that brand over others.

When successful companies do their international marketing, of course they depend on translators who convert all their marketing content into the language of the target market. However, marketing translation is unlike many other fields of translation. For example, a medical translator will be asked to translate a medical document, such as a technical information sheet accompanying a new drug, as accurately as possible. The translation tends to be as literal as is possible between the original language and the target language.

This is not the case with marketing translation, especially when translating brand descriptions and slogans. This is because a literal translation of a marketing message just might not work in another language and cultural context. The answer is to use a process known as transcreation.

Defining Transcreation

Transcreation is a creative form of translation in which a translator modifies the message needing translation so that it resonates better with its target audience. Transcreation specialists are not just translators, then. Obviously they need to be fluent in the languages they are translating. But they also need to have a very strong familiarity with the cultures which are dominant in the originating and target countries. Translators who work in transcreation also need to have a background in marketing itself because the object of their task is not just to avoid embarrassment or confusion when translating marketing messages but create messages that are going to sell the product well because they have a similar emotive factor in the new market, even if the actual words used are quite different. Businesses that are not aware of the importance of transcreation do so at their peril.

The history of marketing is littered with examples of marketing mistakes that took place when brand messages were simply and literally translated from one language into another. Once a well-known brand has been badly presented in another country it then not only fails to do its job of selling products there it has the reverse problem. The brand will be remembered for its clumsiness, or cultural insensitivity, something that could take years to overcome.

Transcreation Successes and Failures

Many of the world’s biggest multinationals have learned after making translation mistakes all about the importance of transcreation. Some of the best-known marketing mistakes are so well known they are mentioned frequently in articles like this. Less well known are some of the transcreation successes.

A well-known marketing botch-up was the slogan that accompanied the English language version of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Finger-lickin’ good.” The point about brand awareness is that when a slogan actually works a company keeps it because it sticks in people’s memories better. KFC still keeps the original slogan but had to change it when it started building KFC restaurants in China. The ‘finger-lickin’ good’ was clumsily translated into Mandarin as ‘eat your fingers’ which obviously didn’t go down to well (the message that is – not the fingers!). KFC learned its lesson and there are now hundreds of KFC outlets across China.

Coca-Cola is yet another huge successful multinational. Its products have been sold right around the world and the brand is instantly recognized. No problem, until China opened up to Coca Cola in the 1980s. In various dialects of Chinese, the brand name “Coca Cola” translated into “bite the wax tadpole” which didn’t sound too appetizing to Chinese consumers. The brand was changed to “kekoukele” which in Chinese meant “happiness in the mouth,” a far better slogan for this particular market!