Translation vs Localization vs Transcreation

translation vs transcreation

If you’re planning to leverage international markets, you need to understand the difference between translation, localization, and transcreation. Many a global brand has come unstuck because their translated marketing is meaningless in their new, overseas, target market. Sometimes, logos are deemed offensive in different cultures resulting in catastrophic profit loss.

If you’re serious about selling in overseas markets, then it is essential you know the difference between translations, transcreation, and localization. With this in mind, let’s take a deep dive into what, exactly, they are.


Translation is where the words of one language are translated into another. Although this sounds obvious, there is a lot more to it than that. To capture the same message requires a translator with some skill and a good understanding of both languages. He or she will have to make judgements to bring to life the original document in another language.

Sayings and slang that may resonate in your own country will not necessarily translate well. This can wipe out your marketing message resulting in great expense with few sales. This is why it is important to get professional translations that impart the same message to your new target market.


Translation alone does not accommodate the culture of your target market. This is where localization comes into play. Plenty of elements come into the mix, including politics, law, and culture.

You can’t afford to ignore localization if you are planning to sell overseas. Big brands such as Starbucks have had to change their logos to accommodate laws in Saudi Arabia. As such, it pays to do your research, so you don’t make a similar mistake.

The localization concept extends to image layouts, date formats, and the colors used in your marketing. These elements can be different to your own. Often without professional help, your brand could fall flat on its face before you’ve sold a single product or service.


Transcreation is a service that combines translations, localization, and copywriting to bring your message alive in an overseas market. Like copywriting in your native market, it features unique selling points (USPs), and emotive language to sell products and services.

The copy will adopt local phrasing, idioms, speech, and nuances. If done correctly, it will sell your offerings just as effectively in your new market as it does in your existing market. It is important to understand that for transcreation to work well, the team or individual has to be given the freedom to make necessary changes to bring your offering alive. This facilitates creating the same marketing impact that you have in your existing markets.

Often the most important element in a transcreation is to ensure that the language is emotive, and talks to the people of your new market.

When translations go wrong

To give you an idea of what can happen when translations go wrong, here are a few examples. Some proved very costly to the brands involved.


In 2009 HSBC bank launched a new rebranding campaign aimed at several overseas markets. In several countries, the message “Assume Nothing” was translated to “Do Nothing.” The rebranding cost HSBC USD 10m. The cost to business was almost certainly far higher than that!

US dollar and China’s news service

In 2005, journalist Guan Xiangdong of the China News Service wrote a causal, speculative article about the state of the markets. The English translation came across as authoritative and absolute. This caused panic in the market, and the dollar value plummeted.

World War 3

In 1956 tensions between East and West went on high alert following a speech by Nikita Khrushchev which is now world famous. In the speech, the translation from Russian to English was “we will bury you”. This infamous threat was actually nothing of the sort. The context was “we will outlast you”. Quite different from what was perceived.

Carter’s polish lust

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter traveled to Poland. The interpreter was Russian and not used to translating at a high level. During the speech phrases such as “when I left the United States” and “your desires for the future”, were translated to “when I abandoned the United States” and “your lusts for the future”. Dollars didn’t tumble, and diplomatic tensions did not rise, but the world’s media enjoyed these mistranslations.

Starbuck’s logo

In 1992, the Starbucks logo was deemed culturally inappropriate by the Saudi government. The logo you know that features a mermaid type creature was deemed to show human flesh which doesn’t fly with Saudi culture. As such, an expensive rebranding was carried out.

If you’re serious about doing business in a different country, getting a good transcreation team involved early on is essential. It is vital to gain an understanding of the culture for maximum marketing impact and to avoid the above mistakes.

With this understanding and a good transcreation team, it is possible to expand your business overseas. To do it well and see good returns, it is important you get a good team behind you that are familiar with the three concepts of translation, localization, and transcreation.