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Transcreation: the art of translating adverts

On Saturday 22nd September the YTI (Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters) Network organised an afternoon workshop in York.

Kim Sanderson shared with the attendees some of the key aspects on "Translation in Advertising and Transcreation" and stressed the importance of providing the translator with as complete briefing, as if we were the marketing agency/copywriters.

The first half of the talk was more theoretical, analysing different factors to take into consideration before launching an advertising campaign. The second half was full of real examples, some of which worked, and some of which didn’t.

The second half of the workshop was a super engaging practical session where, divided into groups according to our working language pairs, we tackled some tricky slogans and adverts. The English native speakers found extremely helpful having a native speaker of their source language with them who could reproduce the tone and voice of the messages.

Transcreation sometimes feels easy, and a "direct" translation may work, for example, as it happens with the popular tagline:

Because I'm worth it.

L'oreal's most known sentence was translated as:

Porque yo lo valgo (Spanish).

Parce que je le vaux bien (French).

Weil ich es mir wert bin (German).

*Later on, the tagline changed into Because you are worth it, as the company feared it could be perceived as too egocentric. As far as I know, the foreign versions have been adapted as well.

However, a word-by-word translation may not always work; actually, it is likely it will not work on more occasions than it will. To prove this, we worked with different challenges (yes, it was very challenging) from and into English. Honestly, even if we were working in groups and sharing ideas, we did not always find a "solution" that we were happy with.

The most frustrating example was:

'Hungry, aye? Have a McIntosh pie'.

McIntosh Pie advert tagline

Three aspects stand out immediately: It belongs to Scotland, there is a catchy rhyme aye-pie, and the name of an audio equipment manufacturer (or Apple´s Mac computers, if you prefer) seems out of place. Luckily, the hungry and the pie hint to some kind of food, and with a quick search we found out that McIntosh is a brand of ready meals (as well).

The groups working into Italian and French decided to leave the word pie in original English, we Spaniards cannot do that. Why? Well, because pie /'pje/, in Spanish means foot. In Argentina they call the pie a tarta, which in Spain is a cake; which Argentinians call pastel, which in Spain can be a bite-size-cake.

One of our suggestions was:

¿Hambrienta? McIntosh te alimenta. (Are you (female) hungry? McIntosh feeds you).

But we did not want to explicit any gender, because that would mean creating, at least, two different versions, a female one and a male one. Why? Because we did not know if there was an image accompanying the message. [What did we say about briefing the translator?]

*If you have any suggestion on how to translate this, please, let us know :D

The Spanish>English group tackled the tagline:

No es lo que tengo, es lo que soy... Viceroy. (It is not what I have, it is who I am... Viceroy).

What do we find here?

First, the word viceroy, that reminds us of the time of colonies, when the king (roy) had a representative in the territory who acted on his name (vice).

Shakira - Viceroy

Secondly, the rhyme soy-roy. We need to ​know as well that Viceroy is a brand of luxurious watches both for men and women (well, we need to know this if we want to do our job properly, of course, and probably score some points in a Trivial Pursuit game).

We all agreed that

Viceroy... [that is] who I am.

worked very well, as it can be applied both to men and women, whilst it stills transmits the message of "being important, luxurious enough as to have a Viceroy, because you identify yourself with the brand, whilst the brand says a lot about your personality".

The concept of "brand" plays a very important role when designing an advert: values, taglines, mottos... all that shapes the corporate identity. A company would not doubt in telling the graphic designer what Pantone colours or what fonts may be used to design their logo; they should inform the translator the same way.

Tell us what the target audience is, tell us what you want to transmit with the advert, tell us what reaction you expect from it, tell us what message you want to convey. Advertising is about the feelings and emotions of the message, not as much about the product or service itself.

We are not just dealing with words, but with their different meanings and connotations in the native culture. Transcreating an advert is an exercise of recreating emotions in the foreign culture.


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