8 Important Lessons for International Transcreation Success


Transcreation is one of the most important services available to businesses in international trade. It involves translating and adapting marketing messages from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context. Transcreation offers more than a translation, allowing businesses to truly target their products to foreign, local audiences, in a way that is culturally sensitive and appealing to consumers. However, while it may sound simple enough, international transcreation success takes a lot of effort.

Even some of the world’s biggest companies including Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, and even Group-on have got it very wrong, alienating their audiences and losing a LOT of money.

That’s why we’ve put together these eight simple rules, to help you and your business get transcreation right. With the support of professional translation agency, if you follow these tips, you’re bound to realise your dreams of international transcreation success and expansion in no time!

1) Yes, you do need to translate your brand name

First impressions are important, and your company or brand name is often the first interaction customers have with your business. That’s why you’ll already have invested a lot of time and effort getting it right.

However, many businesses are wrong if they believe that their brands are big enough to work without translation or adaptation in another language.

We all understand that a lot of investment goes into developing a brand, and businesses worried about brand dilution won’t want to change their name, but be warned, sometimes the wrong name in a new market can completely alienate your potential audience.

For instance, when well-known Turkish diaper brand, Pedo, entered the Spanish market, they didn’t change their name. Funnily enough, when translated into Spanish, Pedo means flatulence. Pedo didn’t check, and because they didn’t, they didn’t sell.

Lesson 1: However, much you have invested in your company’s name or brand, when you are entering a new market, always check to see whether your name has hidden meanings that you don’t want to be associated with your business. If it does, develop a new name for the local market.

For international Transcreation success you must adjust your brand’s name


2) Slogans, like idioms, don’t often translate well

Slogans are great. A memorable three to five-word phrase can be a guaranteed way of helping customers remember your business. It’s also a great way to communicate your business’s beliefs, objectives, and aspirations.

But much like names, even if you can translate a slogan into another language, it might not always communicate exactly what you want it to.

Pepsi made this mistake when they translated their slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life,” into Chinese. Regrettably, in China, the slogan was interpreted literally, and people thought that Pepsi wanted to bring their ancestors back from their graves, not help tired people wake up.

Understandably, Pepsi didn’t do well in China.

Lesson 2: If you need to translate a slogan, make sure you check with a native speaker on how it will be interpreted by locals. If it doesn’t look good, develop one that does, specifically for the new market.

Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead
Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From The Dead

3) Double entendres (meanings) are an international phenomenon

When you’re selling a product, or even a service, the right words go a long way. That’s why businesses pay professional copywriters to write engaging marketing materials, that entice customers, and drive sales.

However, be warned, even if you are able to translate certain phrases perfectly into another language, sometimes there can be hidden meanings associated with the phrase.

When Parker introduced their ballpoint pens in Mexico, their marketing carried the translated phrase, “it won’t leak in your pocket.” Surely that’s innocent enough, isn’t it? In Castilian Spanish perhaps, but not in Mexican Spanish, where the translation can be understood as, “It won’t get you pregnant.” While many Mexicans found it hilarious, they didn’t buy the pen.

Lesson 3: Even if a phrase translates well, test it with local audiences. If you are not talking to a native, you’re not going to understand the full picture.

Translation Fail
You Must Test Your Translation With Your Target Audience Prior Launching Your Content

4) Watch out for slang

We all use slang. It’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool, that can help businesses speak more naturally with specific audiences. However, it can also present bring its own challenges.

In the 1980s, Ford introduced their compact car, the Pinto in Brazil. In Brazillian Portuguese, Pinto, is slang for small genitals. Ford didn’t know this. Despite the competitive price and build quality, Ford’s Pinto, understandably, did not sell well in Brazil. We imagine it’s because people didn’t want to drive around in small genitals.

Ford were forced to change the car’s name in Brazil from Pinto to Corcel, which required every single unit to be rebadged – an extraordinarily expensive undertaking.

Lesson 4: Any word might be slang in another language. You need to check all of your marketing materials with a local, and someone who understands the target market, or you cannot be confident that you’re not calling your product something stupid.


Translation Mistakes that Ford Pinto experienced in Brazil
Translation Mistakes that Ford Pinto experienced in Brazil


5) Different cultures can be very easy to offend, in ways you least expect

Every country and culture is unique. It’s what makes the world so special. However, it also means that things that we may not be offended by, could easily offend another culture.

For instance, back in 2011, the sportswear brand, Puma, managed to offend everyone in the United Arab Emirates with the introduction of a special, UAE inspired edition of their trainer, the AED690. Puma’s intention was to create a product specifically for the region. However, when locals saw the UAE flag on the sole of the trainer they were appalled. That’s because, in the Arab world, one of the most serious insults is to say that you want to walk on someone, or something. In this case, it was the UAE flag that was being walked on.

As you can imagine, Puma were forced to pull the trainer and the whole episode was a publicity nightmare.

Lesson 5: To prevent complete brand disasters, you need to know the local culture. If you’re not familiar with it, make sure you are consulting someone who is, on every aspect of your marketing (that includes branding, customer service, and more).

Translation Mistakes that Puma had in the UEA
Translation Mistakes that Puma had in the UEA


6) Not every language is like English

You’re forgiven if you don’t speak another language, but it’s always important to remember that some languages are completely different from our own. Take Chinese Mandarin, rather than using a latin alphabet, writing is based on thousands of unique characters. When speaking the language, phonetics are also much more important than they are in English.

When translating their name into Chinese, Mercedes-Benz, made one serious mistake. They didn’t take the use of phonetics in Mandarin seriously. When entering the Chinese market, Mercedes-Benz adopted the name, ’Ben Si (奔死)’. This would have been fine – it sounds like Mercedes-Benz – but they didn’t know it meant, “rush to die,” in Chinese. Not really what anyone wants a powerful car to be associated with.

Lesson 6: Remember that while it’s incredibly powerful that every language is unique, it also means that there will be more things that could go wrong. Never underestimate the importance of a human translator, with in depth knowledge of the language.

Mercedes Translation Mistakes Rush to Die
Mercedes Translation Mistakes Rush to Die


7) Don’t underestimate the importance of cultural practices

In the west, we can often forget that other cultures don’t apply the same archetypes of hygiene, or natural beauty to people. More, some cultural traditions can seem very alien to us all. Making sure your business is not selling products or ideas that conflict with another culture’s beliefs is a very important aspect of international transcreation success.

For instance, when Pepsodent tried selling their toothpaste in South East Asia, their advertisements carried the slogan, “you’ll wonder where the yellow went.” Sadly Pepsodent had not completed enough research in the area to know that people proactively blacken their teeth with betel nuts, because discoloured teeth are considered attractive. With that knowledge, it’s easy to understand why no one bought the toothpaste.

Lesson 7: Always make sure that your target audience actually wants what you’re selling, and that if they do, you’re marketing the product correctly.

Cultural Aspect Must Be Taken Into Account when doing Transcreation
Cultural Aspect Must Be Taken Into Account when doing Transcreation

8) Transcreation isn’t all about selling

International transcreation success doesn’t stop at marketing. If your business operates in another country, the chances are, you either already employ, or are thinking about employing locals.

And why not? Depending on the region, you could be employing someone who’s better educated and more cost effective than you could at home. However, to succeed at attracting the right people, you need to advertise your business correctly, and make sure that you don’t upset the competition. Failing to do so will ruin your international treanscreation success.

Groupon seriously failed at getting this right in China. To attract employees, they attempted to poach the cream of their competitors with offers of huge salaries. In retaliation, Groupon’s Chinese competitors established an alliance that threatened to prevent any defecting employee from returning to their original company. Understandably, a lot of people weren’t too keen to join Groupon, despite the financial incentives offered.

Lesson 8: If you go out of your way to undermine local businesses, local businesses will go out of their way to undermine you. You need to know how to operate with the local competition to succeed in new international markets.

International Transcreation Success Does Not Stop At Marketing
International Transcreation Success Does Not Stop At Marketing


Transcreation Services that Work

You’ll have noticed that international transcreation success can be pretty difficult, but it can be done right. The skills that you need are generally local cultural, local business and local language knowledge. Finding people with all of these skills though can be extremely hard.

Lucky for you, Linguist Point offers specialised, professional transcreation services in over 100 languages, delivered by natives who are experienced translators, professional marketers, and a real cut above the limited, and untested services you could get from a freelance translator.

So why not give the professionals a call, to find out exactly how you, and your business can succeed where other business titans failed.

There isn’t a better time to realise your dreams international transcreation success than today.

Linguist Point aims to bridge the linguistic gap between businesses, cultures and people across the UK and Beyond. We enable businesses to engage and communicate with global audience efficiently in more  than 100 languages. Contact us today and navigate in the international waters safely 020 8523 5791