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  • Writer's pictureUndertow Team

Marketing translation, transcreation, multilingual copywriting… what’s the difference?

You want to promote your brand in international markets. So you look online for somebody to translate your marketing materials. And, all of a sudden, you come across different terms for what might look like the same service: marketing translation, transcreation, and multilingual copywriting. You just want to adapt your content into different languages, so translation should be the service you need, right? Well, it depends. There are a number of factors to take into account. What kind of content is it? Is it a product page description, an online banner, or a microsite? You also need to consider what is the purpose of your content. That is, what do you want to achieve? Increase awareness, inform visitors about product features, generate traffic for your website, convert visitors into customers? Another thing to keep in mind is your budget. Not all options have the same price tag. Finally, you should consider that some approaches might need different degrees of involvement on your part during the creative process.

Marketing Translation

Let’s start with the first one: marketing translation. This is a concept that most people are familiar with. You take a piece of content in one language (called source text) and you rewrite it almost exactly into another language (target text). This is a rendition that is more or less close to the original. There might be some rephrasing, some sentences can be split or joined, and the same goes for paragraphs, in order to make the text flow as if it were originally written in the target language. Some metaphors or images could be replaced with others that are more relevant in the target culture. The content, however, is pretty much the same as in the original text. For example, it communicates in Arabic what the initial content said in English. Some examples of texts where this kind of approach is usually applied are product page descriptions, press releases, brochure content, etc.

The approval process is fairly straightforward: once your requirements and guidelines have been established, you’ll receive only one version of the translated text. That means that the turnaround time for marketing translation is usually shorter compared to transcreation and multilingual copywriting, which usually includes an internal approval process.

From a financial point of view, prices are usually calculated by multiplying the number of words in the original document for a standard rate. In case there are some sections that are repeated within the files, you might receive a discount. That depends also on how much the content needs to be adapted each time it reappears.

Finally, the people writing the target text are translators specialised in marketing. They are fluent in two or more languages and use their knowledge of target culture and marketing techniques to adapt the content, translating it into their native language in a way that can be fully understood by the local audience.


Then we have transcreation. You might have heard this word before, or it could be completely new to you. It consists of the combination of “translation” and “creation”, and this approach sits in-between translation and copywriting. If in marketing translation linguists rewrite the source text into the target language, with transcreation the copywriter follows the brief to recreate the original copy in their language. The difference could sound minimal, but it isn’t. Transcreated content might use completely different words and cultural references compared to the original, but it aims to evoke the same reaction as the source in a way that is culturally relevant to the target audience.

This approach is often used to adapt shorter content of a highly creative nature, like headlines, social media posts, online banners, and TV commercials, but it can also be used for longer copy like e-mail campaigns. In this type of content, there is usually a strong link between the visual and the language elements. For example, an online banner could be made up of one image and a single headline like the ones below.

Another important difference compared to marketing translation is that you’ll be presented with multiple options. The copywriter will create two or more versions of the original content and will present it to you accompanied by a back-translation in the source language and some comments to explain their choices, which are often called the “rationales”.

The back-translation needs to be as accurate as possible in representing the adapted copy, so that somebody who doesn’t speak the target language can understand what the proposed adaptation says and how it might differ from the original. In the rationale, the copywriter will clarify why the proposed adaptation works in their market and what is their reasoning behind their linguistic choices. They will also explain why they moved away from the original, if that’s the case, and how their version ties in with the visual. This is especially important because the same sentence can have very different meanings when paired with different images. Look at the examples below. The headline is the same, but the results are very different.

In a transcreation project, your language service provider will send you a document (called copy deck) including different versions of the adapted content. Therefore, you should have an internal process for approving whichever version you deem most suitable for your brand. The copywriting team will flag their recommended version, but you have the last word. Here you might be thinking: Why doesn’t the copywriter just choose one version? The answer is that since they are recreating the source copy into another language and for another market, there is no single “correct” way to do it. The versions you’ll receive will represent different approaches. For example, you might have a straightforward adaptation that is very close to the original, along with a more creative version that almost has no resemblance to the original copy, but that embodies the same concepts and elicits the same emotional reaction in the target market and culture. This is because the same word in different languages might have different nuances, cultural references, or images associated with it.

Another reason for receiving different versions of the same adapted content is that nobody knows your brand as well as you do. The copywriter and the editor will immerse themselves in your reference documentation, be it the brief, your website, your tone of voice or style guide, and any previous projects, and they might ask you questions to better understand what is the aim of your marketing campaign, what do you want to achieve and how your brand should communicate with your customers. Once you receive the copy deck with the different versions, you might realize that, although you like one of the proposed approaches, there are some parts where you think some of your key messages should be stressed further. In that case, the copy deck goes back to the copywriter with your notes, so they can implement your feedback. You might also want to speak with them over the phone to clarify what you liked of the version you chose and what might need to be reworked so that it’s more in line with your campaign objectives and the brand tone of voice. All in all, transcreation requires a little more involvement on your part, but it allows you to better shape your message, and therefore to communicate more effectively with your local audience.

Prices for transcreation projects are usually based on an estimate of the time they will involve. This takes into account the initial communications to create a brief for the copywriting team, the first version of the copy deck (which includes multiple adaptations, back-translations, and rationales), and a round of revisions and communications, either by email or by phone, to implement any feedback you might have.

Transcreation assignments are carried out by native speakers of the target language, who are fluent in both the source and the target language, and that have experience in the fields of both copywriting and translation. Even though most of the communication might be in English, the people crafting your copy must always be native speakers of the target language. Their extensive knowledge of the source language and culture will allow them to understand every little nuance of the source copy, the effect of which they will then reproduce in the target language.

Multilingual Copywriting

At the other end of the spectrum, we have multilingual copywriting, where content is created from scratch. The main reference in this process is the brief. Therefore, there’s an initial phase where you need to identify your goals and requirements, your target audience, and establish a tone of voice (unless you already have a specific brand guide). All this information is included in a document called “brief”. This will help the copywriting team understand what they should aim for when writing the content in each language.

Since there is no source text, the local copy could be radically different for each market. This will allow copywriters to create content specifically tailored to your target audiences, using words and images that will resonate with each local culture. That is why the initial briefing phase is very important: all the preparation work will influence the final results.

Since you’ll be presented with various options for each market, you’ll need an internal approval process. You want to ensure that your brand is consistent all over the world. And there will be multiple drafts and rounds of amends. The copy will be written from scratch, so there’ll probably be several versions of the same campaign you’ll have to consider in order to find the right one for your brand.

Multilingual copywriting can be used for any marketing campaign. Be it online banners, brochures, TV commercials, or any other promotional content, you’ll start by creating a brief, where you’ll outline your project details, target audience, core message, unique selling points, creative direction, and anything else it might be necessary to realise your vision and achieve your goals.

Pricing for multilingual copywriting is calculated on a campaign or project level, making an estimate of how much time will be needed to create assets, including initial and feedback calls, rounds of revisions, talent coordination, and production costs (documents layout, digital or video production, etc.). As with any kind of content, another way to look at pricing is focusing on the value the campaign has for your brand, how it will impact your revenue and your level of engagement in a specific market, and how it will help your company grow. If your brand has a recognisable and effective voice in local markets, it will be able to stand out from the competition. Making sure that you reach your customers not only in a language that they understand, but with content that is relevant for them, is an investment that will bear fruit in the form of sales and increased customer loyalty.

As with transcreation, the people creating your content in the local language will be copywriters, but in this case, they won’t necessarily have translation skills, as they’ll be working in their native language only, using English just to understand the campaign brief and instructions. They will know how to craft a message by choosing the right words that will resonate with your local target audience. They should have experience working on different kinds of content and adapt their style according to the tone of voice and specifications of each brand.

To sum it up

Below you’ll find a table that will briefly outline the differences between marketing translation, transcreation, and multilingual copywriting. This should help you get an idea of what’s what and how each service has a different scope and purpose.

How do I know what is the right service for me?

Usually, a marketing campaign will require a mix of these services, according to your requirements and goals. For example, if you are launching a new product, you might need marketing translation to adapt the sales presentation for internal teams in different languages, you’ll have to use transcreation to recreate the online banners to promote the new product in different markets, and you’ll need multilingual copywriting services to create engaging social media posts that will resonate with local audiences.

Sometimes, you might even have to use different services within the same asset. Recently, we were asked to adapt an article on child safety features for a major battery brand. This project required two different approaches. First of all, marketing translation was needed for most of the copy in the article, where it was outlined how product functionalities were specifically designed to prevent children from swallowing batteries and how parents could help prevent this from happening. However, within the article, there was a graphic that used the acronym FIRST (from “Safety First”) to create an acrostic whereby each letter of the acronym spelled out a message about safety. Each paragraph started with a word beginning with the corresponding letter of the acronym, which was set in bold and was supposed to help the reader remember all the different pieces of advice. As you’ve probably guessed, this worked only in English, so every language had to find a different 5-letter acronym related to safety and rewrite each paragraph accordingly. The client received three versions from which to choose, each with a different approach. For example, in Italian we recommended using the word AMARE, which means both “to love” and “bitter” and was connected to the idea of children safety as an act of love and to the fact that the main security feature of these batteries was a bitter-tasting ring that would prevent swallowing hazards. We also suggested two alternatives: BIMBI, an endearing word for children, and AIUTO, which means “help”, in connection with the fact that these features help ensure the safety of children.

As this example shows, there is more than one way to go about adapting or creating your content for different markets. Each service has a different approach, and choosing the right one can be difficult. At Undertow, we not only know the difference, but we provide all three services. And we’ll be happy to advise on which is more suitable to achieve your goals. If you’re still unsure about which service is right for you, or if you are thinking about expanding the international reach of your brand, don’t hesitate to contact us, so we can discuss together what you want to achieve and what’s the most effective way to ensure your brand speaks your customers' language.


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