Of the many things I do, transcreation is certainly the one people find most fascinating – not least because its meaning and fields of application aren’t clear-cut. Italian conference interpreter and translator Fulvio Novì is a member of CIT – Collettivo Interpreti e Traduttori, a network of young independent professionals. For the blog section of their website, he asked me to answer a few questions about transcreation. I think it’s a beautiful interview, so I’ve translated it into English. The original article in Italian is available here.
Transcreation: An Interview with Claudia Benetello
With today’s article, we at CIT want to bring you something new. We’ve been wanting to talk about transcreation in detail for a while now – it’s one of the most complex and fascinating branches in the wide world of translation. And for the occasion, we decided to interview one of the most well-known professionals in this field, Claudia Benetello.
Let’s start by saying that Claudia really has a particular and diverse educational background. After graduating in Political Science with a focus on communications, she completed a Master’s in Music Communications for the Recording Industry and the Media, an Advanced Training Course in Interpreting Techniques in the English<>Italian language combination, as well as an Executive Master’s in Copywriting and Advertising Communications.
On top of this, as a member of the Italian Ordine dei Giornalisti she’s also a professional journalist. In other words, she has a versatile profile with a 360-degree overview of communications, which made the interview very enjoyable and interesting. Without further ado, off we go with the questions!
How would you define transcreation?
While a universally accepted definition doesn’t exist, mine is the following: “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”. Let me try and explain it bit by bit:
- “Writing”, and not “translating”, because sometimes you may need to recreate the copy instead of transposing it from one language to another. And by “recreating the copy” I mean, for example, what I did with the Norton™ AntiVirus tagline
- “Advertising or marketing copy” because in my opinion transcreation only concerns texts that have a persuasive function rather than a merely informative function
- “For a specific market” because “target language” wouldn’t be enough. Both Québec and France share the French language, for instance, but they’re two different markets. That’s why they’re likely to make different choices when it comes to adapting an advertisement
- “Starting from copy written in a source language” because writing advertising or marketing copy without a source text to begin with is copywriting, not transcreation. This said, it should be noted that the term “copywriting” seems to be used abroad to include both creation from scratch (i.e., origination) and transcreation
- “As if the target text had originated in the target language and culture” because the target audience needs to feel like an advert is speaking to them, when in fact it’s the local version of a global campaign that’s the same all over the world.
What skills should people working in transcreation possess?
I’ve identified four of them:
- language skills, in the sense of comprehension of the source text in all its linguistic and cultural implications. Again, I think the Norton™ AntiVirus tagline “Boldly Go” is an interesting case in point
- writing skills, in the sense of copywriting skills. If the source text sometimes cannot be transposed but must be recreated altogether, then possessing the ability to come up with copy from scratch is key
- cultural sensitivity, in the sense of deep knowledge of the target culture so as to come up with copy that’s suitable for the target audience
- local market understanding, in the sense of knowledge of the advertising landscape in that particular market. To put it in layman’s terms: every brand tries to address their audience in a unique, distinctive way. So adapting an advertisement means knowing at least how a brand’s competitors are communicating.
What are the differences and similarities between a translator and a transcreation specialist?
I find it hard to answer this question, because by “transcreation” everyone seems to mean something different. In fact, many translators also offer transcreation and even post-editing services.
In general, I believe the common ground lies mainly in the first skill I mentioned. Both a translator and a transcreation specialist work with a text written in a foreign language and they need to produce a text in the target language.
The main difference, in my opinion, lies in the second skill. A translator specialising in medicine or law certainly isn’t expected to have copywriting skills. What’s the use of being able to write a brochure or a print advertisement from scratch when you translate clinical trials or criminal judgments? If a translator deals with advertisements, on the other hand, it’s a different kettle of fish.
What are the phases of a transcreation project?
I regard transcreation as a consulting service rather than as a language service in the strict sense. Transcreation can indeed include tasks that don’t involve the transposition of a source text from one language to another, for example cultural consultations or voiceover direction.
However, if we look at the interlinguistic and intercultural adaptation of advertising copy alone and we take into account the typical transcreation workflow for a headline or a tagline, I would identify the following phases:
- briefing: the transcreation professional receives exhaustive information on the task to be performed. It’s obvious that the transcreation of a tiny sentence like “Boldly Go” or “Go boldly, not blindly” requires plenty of information not only about the product, but also about the brand’s tone of voice as well as the meanings behind those taglines
- analysis: adverts are made of words and visuals, and the transcreation professional needs to analyse them both before they start writing
- brainstorming: at this point the transcreation professional writes down all the transcreation options that spring to mind, without self-censoring
- selection: going through the brief again, the transcreation professional selects the options that are more spot-on. I’m using the plural form here because in transcreation you usually provide multiple options for the same headline or tagline
- backtranslation + comments & rationale: the transcreation professional translates their options back into the source language as literally as possible, explaining the creative approach they adopted. This way the HQ of the company launching the advertising campaign can understand which direction the local version of its headline or tagline is going
- feedback and modifications: the transcreation professional receives feedback from the client and finalises the copy.
Which transcreation projects have you enjoyed the most?
As regards marketing copy, I’d definitely pick Technoform’s brochure, because in my opinion it represents a best practice. Imagine a B2B company making a brochure as if they were a B2C company – i.e., using a very direct, engaging tone of voice – and following the typical transcreation workflow (multiple options, backtranslation and rationale) to produce the Italian version of such a brochure. Hats off!
As regards advertising copy in the strict sense, I’d say The Boys’ tagline. A seemingly nondescript sentence, which even a 12-year-old could translate into Italian without opening a dictionary, needs a completely different approach and treatment if it graces a billboard. And that headline is a striking example.
For quite a few years now, the translation industry has been undergoing an inevitable process of technological transformation, with the advent of CAT tools, followed by MTPE. Has this trend also been observed in transcreation? How so?
I don’t think this applies to transcreation, which is, however, seeing another trend that in some ways is even more dangerous. As transcreation concerns texts that usually don’t make use of specific terminology, especially in B2C, people tend to assume anyone who understands English can tackle them. As if a text’s trickiness only depended on its terminology! Unfortunately this is a widespread misconception not only within companies, but also among translators and copywriters. I for one firmly believe that transcreation requires both skills – translation and copywriting.
Outside of transcreation, you’re also a copywriter, interpreter and journalist. Has dealing with so many aspects of communications in general and developing so many different skills proven useful in your approach to transcreation?
If there’s something I’m particularly proud of, it’s having sat on opposite sides of the desk. As a translator I translate press releases, but when I used to be a freelance publicist, I would write press releases. As an interpreter I translate live for journalists at press conferences, but I first attended that kind of press conference as a journalist. As a transcreation professional I adapt advertising and marketing copy from English or German into Italian, but as a copywriter I also create copy in Italian from scratch. This skill definitely helps me a great deal when I do transcreation.