Featured: Can you translate a feeling?
Vasiliki wrote a guest blog for transifex.com about transcreation titled 'Can you translate a feeling?'.
The following content was first published on the transifex blog
My job is to make you feel.
I don’t know about you, but I love ads. I also love trailers. If you ever go to the cinema with me, we have to get in early so that I can catch them all. Most people find this type of content annoying. I find it thrilling. The music, the images, the movement, the words, the suspense, they all build up to that last screen, that tagline. The aim is to tease you, to leave you hanging, to excite you, to make you feel something, to make you do something.
Well-thought through, designed to minute details, edited to perfection, any type of ad, whether print or digital, on a buildboard or a magazine, on social media or on the big screen, undergoes a rigorous process. Copywriters, copyeditors, graphic designers, illustrators, filmmakers, visual artists, and producers work in synergy to achieve a specific goal.
Sometimes, they want you to buy something, feel connected, relate with the brand, donate money, feel sad, happy, anxious. They tell a story. They create a need. They tap into your emotions. And in return, you, the audience, respond or so we hope.
This type of content is often created in English, and it is then required to be adapted into several languages to reach a wider audience. The process is often known as marketing implementation and a tiny part of this process is known as transcreation. During the latter, transcreators are assigned the task of transferring the impact of the English ad to the non-English speaking target market.
What is Transcreation?
Transcreators are treated like copywriters. They are given a brief, a style guide, a tone of voice (TOV) guide, brand guidelines. They are sent images of the product, previous copy to study, unreleased videos to watch. Transcreators take inspiration from the English copy, and they rewrite it into their own language. They are strongly advised to divert from the English, to be creative, to transfer the essence, the impact, the emotions, and to forget about the words.
A transcreation brief can sound like this: be emotive, own it, create intimacy, be bold, aspirational, sophisticated, yet natural, not complicated, stay short and focused. Rephrase, rewrite as necessary in your language. Achieve 100% idiomatic and impactful result. Avoid sounding bombastic, pompous, or highly intellectual. Remain light, and fluent. Flirt with the reader. Play with them. Immerse them into the story. Be provocative with them. Challenge them. Pull and release. Follow a heartbeat pattern. Create rhythm. Use short and then long sentences. Push and pull. If you need to omit content, omit it. End with a bang. Generate goosebumps.
It may sound like a flowery way of saying “just write well” but the intent is to put the transcreator in the right mindset for the job. And if you are wondering whether I find this kind of brief overwhelming, then the answer is yes. My first reaction is always “Who do you think I am? Some sort of magician?”
But then, if I am creating in Greek the new ad for Dolce & Gabbana, The One, I first watch the ad, I smell the perfume, I place myself in that boat, in that swimsuit, somewhere along the Amalfi coast. I get into character. I need to feel the impact myself first, then adapt it and transfer it. If I don’t get goosebumps by my own writing, I know the reader won’t either. If I don’t believe in the story I am selling, nobody else will.
And that’s achieved by seeking inspiration from previous material, watching available content online, imagining the Greek viewer watching the ad, getting inside their head, guessing what they would want to hear, what sounds natural to them, what would touch them, what is going to make them buy the perfume.
The Transcreation Process
And so I write. First, adaptation 1, back translation 1, commentary 1. The role of the back translation is to help the client get an idea of what the Greek copy says. The commentary is an explanation, a defence of my word choices, a description of the challenges I encountered, and the solutions I implemented, along with my reasons. For example, I explain why I decided to split a long sentence into two short ones, or why I am speaking to the audience in the second person singular and not in the third, or why the word for ‘vibration’ results in awkwardness in Greek and what I replaced it with.
And then I write a little more. Adaptation 2, back translation 2, commentary 2. Now even further from the English source, the Greek copy takes off on its own. It reads like original writing, yet has the same purpose as the English source. It sells you an experience, it attracts your attention, it creates a wish, it transports, it is breath-taking.
And then when the ad is ready, I watch it, I listen to it. I ensure the captions fall on the right moments, that the music does not overpower the voice over actor, that the text is not cropped, that the characters are short enough for you to be able to read the captions before the screen changes, and watch the story unfold at the same time. I text control. Is the text free of typos, grammatical and syntactical errors? Is it placed by the illustrator in the correct graphic? Is there anything missing?
I draw from the skills of a subtitler, a copywriter, a copy-editor, a reviewer, a proofreader, a translator, a market insight expert. But mostly, I draw from inspiration I find around me. From walking in nature, visiting museums, discussing, and debating with friends, reading books, scanning magazines, watching films, listening to music, sitting in a pink tutu skirt and black leather combat boots in my office at home, where nobody sees me.
I love the nature of this job. While it’s mostly promoting products that some will unavoidably consider trivial, shallow, and superficial, spraying a little perfume, sleeping in a self-driving fast car, flying in a dress of silk flowers, or spiralling down rotating staircases to land on a bed of feathers, is not something anyone should say no to these days.
And if I managed to make you travel, even for a little bit, while reading this, next time you watch an ad, don’t skip it. Watch it to the end. And if it is in your language, think of those behind it, those who worked on it.
The word choosers.
The story tellers.
The image makers.
The professional emotion transporters.
That’s what we are.
Head over to the transifex blog for more posts covering everything from video game and app localisation, machine translation, writing tips and more!
Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English and Greek and specialises in legal, creative, and psychometrics. She is a Chartered Linguist, member of CIoL, ITI and PEM and she is registered with the Greek Consulate as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Steering Group Member of the CIOL Translating Division and CIOL Business, Professions and Government Division. She is an Associate Lecturer in Legal Translation at London Metropolitan University, a public speaker and writer for industry magazines. Her mission is to help you achieve your goals through the power of words. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.