Beyond transcreation

A few thoughts on adapting global marketing campaign had been brewing in my mind for a while.

It all started with the ‘T’ word

In the past 10 to 15 years, when brands started to go truly global, one of the key steps they had taken was to align their brand advertising to achieve synergy in every market they advertised. At the same time, they started to realise that translating the marketing message in foreign markets was no longer enough, that’s when ‘transcreation’ (in global campaign) came about.

That was the time when I was recruited by a London agency specialised in this revolutionary approach. I moved from Asia and joined the original visionary team that determined to make it happen. I started to leverage my creative agency background to build a network of creative writers around the world, expanding the company’s talent pool from just key European markets to pan European, Asia Pacific and beyond.

Nowadays, the creatives that I have handpicked, have collaborated with global brands across the whole industry and had become the early adopters of this discipline.

At that time I didn’t really refer the service as ‘transcreation’. I defined the approach the same way as any local copywriter creating brand stories for the local market – the only difference being the global idea formed the backbone of any creation.

In many ways, my philosophy has never changed.

What does ‘transcreation’ really mean?

It reached the point when more and more people talked about ‘transcreation’, and marketing agencies (even translation companies) started to reposition their services to match the growing trend, the true essence of the meaning had become blurred.

In previous blog posts I have already expressed my view on the many misguided definition of ‘transcreation’.

Many people over the years had attempted to define it, with little clarity.

In the world of global marketing, the term has been loosely adopted to describe the kind of adaptation work that adjusts to the culture of local markets.

Within the marketing implementation industry, the term had been used just because this is, up till now, how most marketers understand it.

In fact, I have always had a concern about how people actually understand it.

It gets a bit ‘cloudy’, and does not help in showing the true value of the work when it is being done properly.

If you think all it involves are avoiding all the cultural pitfalls in foreign markets – expressions that does not mean anything in a foreign market, colors that create negative connotation or customs that is frowned upon in a different culture, then think again.

Let’s take a step back and consider the brief origin of this term:

Transcreation was originally used to express a literary tradition of India especially after the emergence of modern Indian languages. It was used to describe the people oriented and the time oriented creative translations of the ancient Sanskrit spiritual texts. This term originally used by contemporary writers like P. Lal for his English translation of the Shakuntala and Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1974), is applicable for the whole tradition of creative translation of great classics like Ramayana, Bhagarata and Mahabharata in the regional languages from Sanskrit.

The methodology of ‘transcreation’ all makes perfect sense until companies start using it as a fancy term without fundamentally understanding the true impact of the output.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

And that’s the reason why I like to challenge it and rethink what’s relevant in the current global marketing landscape.

Is ‘transcreation’ the only answer?

I developed the ‘creative adaptation’ service for some of our clients just because of this. By approaching it pretty much the same way as in approaching a brief from fresh, but taking the global brand and platform as part of the backbone of the local execution. By thinking 360° and activate the ideas in all touchpoints relevant to each local market.

The only challenge is, the line is so fine that only when you involve in the creative process, you often find it difficult to distinguish the differences.

I believe it is also intensified by the growing popularity and importance of digital and social media, where local executions are often the more preferred way to execute the idea. Locally developed executions are beginning to challenge the integrity of the global platform.

I think it’s time we approach it from a fresh angle.

Enter Trans-origination

Rather than approaching it in the contrived and often tightly framed manner – i.e. based on a master source and ‘transcreate’ it by applying necessary adjustments and changes to make it suit the local market – we approach it the same way like the thinking process of ‘origination’.

Origination: The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.

Only when we stop just trying to ‘shadow’ the master source materials, will we be able to think out of the box like a local.

Part of the arguments in the past on ‘transcreation’ was on cost savings – one ‘master asset’ to be used for multiple markets. This argument is also gradually breaking down with the introduction of smart production process and technique, and the costs of recreating asset could be substantially reduced.

How to be a ‘trans-originator’

How should we approach ‘trans-origination’? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t get boxed in the literal context. Spend more time to identify the true universal truth and more importantly, what each market actually needs. The universal truth is more likely to be deeper than the copy message itself or just the ‘campaign tagline’
  • Understand the local market beyond just the confinement of the ad campaign in question. Consider every expression holistically – from naming through to corporate culture, from marketing communications to even model of after sales service – because these are increasingly important in creating total consumer experience.
  • Apply T-shaped thinking: if transcreation goes for the depth, trans-origination goes for the breath. Think about extending the campaign to media apart from the pre-determined channel of the ‘master asset materials’ – sometimes spending the resources to re-interpret it in a totally different media that works better for the local market will prove to be more effective and guaranteed better return of investment.

In a nutshell, don’t just do it, start asking why.

Some signs of the growing trend of ‘trans-origination’

  • Coca-cola’s ‘Open Happiness’ positioning was trans-originated as a social campaign in Philippines, a good-will ‘Make Tomorrow Better’ campaign in Egypt or as a fun-filled marketing stunt in America – all are designed to be the manifestation of the ‘happiness’ platform in a local context
  • Johnnie Walker ‘Keep Walking’ platform is trans-originated in the ‘Jonnie Walker House’ experience in China
  • Levis was trans-originated as a local brand dENiZEN primarily for China and will be marketed across Asia, transferring knowledge of the mother brand to a newly developed local brand
  • French fashion label Hermès trans-originated as a luxury brand Shang Xia for China in 2010
  • InterContinental hotel is going to trans-originated a new luxury hotel brand in China riding on the operation support of the master-brand but in a totally local brand identity

Less theory. More practice.

All the ‘T’ words that I have mentioned are not attempting to replace each other. They should be considered as different tools in a tool box – use the right one in the right time.

Trans-origination is not just a fancy term or an upgrade of the same service but a fundamental shift of thinking and approach in developing and adapting global marketing campaigns in the digital age.

For this reason, I think trans-origination™, is the future.

I like to hear your thoughts.

(No need to Google the term yet, cause you read it here first!)

Stop press: Just when I am writing this on my holiday I read that Starbucks will open its first coffee shops in India in August or September in 2012, and aims to have 50 outlets by year-end through a tie-up with the Tata group. With India’s strong tea drinking culture, I can see a perfect case for trans-origination in the brewing.