Translation vs Localization vs Transcreation, title in white font over dark background. Orange circles suggesting rounded shapes.

Translation vs Localization vs Transcreation—Which One for Your Global Brand?

Translation, localization and transcreation make up a popular triad in the language services industry. The one you choose will depend on the type of materials you need transformed into the target language, and, just as importantly, on your marketing and communication objectives.

In this article, you’ll find clear definitions of translation, localization, and transcreation; why transcreation is considered to be an added value solution for brands, and a few examples of the industries and types of materials each of these language services might be the most suitable for. 

Let’s go for it!

Found in translation: what’s in a name?

The origins of the English word “translation” can be traced back to the Latin traslatio. The Latin word traslatio is in turn a blend of the preposition trans (meaning, “across”) and latio (which means “to carry” or “to bring,” in the past participle form of the verb ferre). So a translated version of the Latin traslatio could read something like “carried across” or “brought across.” But what is it that’s carried or brought across?

According to the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), “Translation is the communication of meaning from one language (the source) to another language (the target),” and “the purpose of translation is to convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking cultural and regional differences between source and target languages into account.”

Therefore, based on the etymology of the word, translation could be paraphrased as the “carrying across or transportation of meaning.” Not surprisingly, many translators use the analogy of “a bridge between two cultures,” alluding to their role liaising between a source language and culture A and a target language and culture B.

Now, if translation focuses on keeping meaning intact as far as is possible, that means accuracy is a key metric for assessing a translator’s performance. 

Other quality assurance metrics often used in translation include consistency, omission, addition, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mistranslation, and style. Any minor to major errors in any of these categories can potentially result in what are generally known in the industry as “bad-quality translations,” i.e., the wrong message and/or unintended differences in meaning in the target language.

Industries in which translation is frequently used

While it’s practically possible to translate any given text that needs to break the language barrier to reach a new target audience, there are some key industries in which translation is used more than other professional language services, such as:

  • Law. Legal translation is one of the most well known forms of translation. In legal settings, such as international business transactions and legal proceedings, materials that may require translation often include agreements and contracts, powers of attorney, policies, patents, personal documentation (e.g., birth, marriage, and death certificates), legal files, and recordings. The concept of fidelity in legal translation is very important. It’s closely linked to strictly respecting the meaning of the source in the translated text.
  • Medical, scientific research and healthcare. Scientific translation for the medical and healthcare industries experienced an unprecedented boom with the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, but it’s always been one of the industries typically associated with translation and interpreting needs. Translators specialized in these areas will often deal with consent forms, case studies, clinical protocols, pharmaceutical leave pieces, medical device manuals and health insurance materials, among other documents.
  • Economy and finance. Economic translation, also known as commercial and financial translation, may include the translation of statements, press releases, textbooks, audits, reports, newspaper articles or business correspondence. At present, this specialization is in high demand, as many fintech brands, including budget and personal finance apps, want to reach new audiences worldwide with their products, and so they need top-notch translations by experts in the field.

Differences between translation and localization

Although they’re sometimes used interchangeably, translation and localization mean different things, both in theory and in practice. 

For brands, one key difference to consider is the level of engagement which translation can achieve (basic) in contrast with localization (intermediate). This is because translation is more likely to stick more closely to the source text in terms of form and meaning. The translated text will be a faithful reproduction of the source, including everything from the spelling of numbers and units of measurement to specific metaphors and cultural references, like those made to songs, character, or places. 

By comparison, a localized text will focus not just on staying true to meaning, but also, and equally importantly, on getting the original message through to the target reader. While the process of translating a text is focused on accuracy, the process of localizing a message is likely to involve some form of adaptation. Some items that may undergo particular changes in localization are:

  • Visual elements. Images, graphics, and maps are examples of visual elements that are likely to be adapted to fit the target culture better.
  • Textual elements. Localizing a text may involve adapting names, regionalisms, fixed phrases, and idioms to make them appeal to the eyes and ears of the target audience. Numbers, measurement units, and currency symbols may be spelt differently.
  • Cultural and rhetorical elements. The main focus of localization is on recreating the meaning of the source while crafting a text that will resonate with the target culture. To achieve this, cultural references must be adapted to make them easily accessible and understandable to the target audience. For example, perhaps the source text mentions a historical or political event, or even contains a piece of quantitative information (like figures or stats) that only strike a chord with the source culture or won’t make sense to the new readers. Such references must be replaced with other, equally meaningful things that will have the same impact and be clearly understandable in the target language. 

Essentially, localization is the process of adjusting a product’s functional properties and features so the language, cultural, political and legal aspects of it all fit the target market. While meaning is key, considering the role of culture and context is vital for producing a properly localized text. 

As I mentioned before, some key elements that often need to be localized are graphics, images, time and date formats, currency symbols, units of measurement, colors, font type and layout.

Here’s a short and general list of some texts and materials that might be more suitable for localization than translation:

  • Website content
  • Emails
  • Training and e-learning content
  • Blog articles
  • Case studies

Now you’re aware of the differences between localization, let’s move on to my favorite language solution for brands.

Keep reading to find out why it’s my favorite!

Not sure which language solution would be best for your product? Drop us a line to schedule a free consultation and learn more.

What is transcreation?

Transcreation, also known as creative translation, re-writing or trans-adaptation, is an added-value language service involving a highly creative, cross-cultural process tailored to fit the commercial needs of a specific brand and its product.

Personally, I like to explain transcreation with the help of the concepts of a makeover, from the beauty industry, and a remake, from the film industry.

A makeover involves making important changes resulting in improvements. A remake is making a new film based on the same narrative, but with totally different ingredients. 

And in a similar way, the essence of transcreation lies in purposeful, strategic transformation.

The goal of the transcreator is to recreate the effect of the source message and evoke the same reaction in the new target audience.

A transcreator won’t deliberately try and change meaning. But, accuracy, omissions, additions and sometimes even grammar and punctuation are the kind of categories where allowances are often made, provided the transcreated text stays true to the brand’s voice and recreates the reaction, emotions, feelings and associations evoked by the source.

Here are some things a transcreation expert will do on top of those that would be done by the average translation and localization specialist:

  • Study a creative brief (including marketing and communication objectives, target segment and persona, client’s guidelines, if any)
  • Study the client’s brand manual, including verbal and visual identity
  • Brainstorming (resorting to free associations and sensory images is a common practice in the creative process of a transcreation expert)
  • Come up with at least three different target versions of the same source text (especially in the case of slogans, taglines, and social media ad copy)
  • Include back-translations and/or rationales to account for certain creative choices in the translation of a phrase, expression, etc.
  • Carry out thorough market research (including checking against competitors’ content)
  • Read the transcreated copy out loud to see how it sounds and explore whether it fits the target formatting (perhaps it’s a song, or a TV spot, or a character tagline to be printed on a t-shirt or a cereal plate)

Industries where transcreation is in high demand

Some sources trace the origins of the word transcreation to the 1980s, claiming the term originated in the video game and computer industry. Others, to the year 2000, when it was supposedly coined and registered as a trademark in the media industry. 

Regardless of its roots, transcreation is nowadays most frequently used in the following domains, among others:

  • Marketing and advertising. While not all marketing-related copy will call for transcreation, many marketing communications require a language solution that goes beyond the transference of meaning or the specific adaptation of visual and verbal items in a given message. For example, a brand’s slogans and claims, character taglines, TV spots, radio commercials and YouTube videos are some examples of materials that will probably require transcreation. You’ll find two interesting examples concerning Coca-Cola and M&M’s below.
  • Film and cinema. Just as with book titles, movie names are one specific content type often suitable for transcreation. Additionally, subtitling specialists may have to transcreate the message. For example, sitcoms like Friends, The Nanny, and The Big-Bang Theory, whose scripts often include humor, metaphors, irony, coinages, and puns, call for an audiovisual translator who’s also creative enough to convey the effect of the message within specific character constraints as required by the subtitling industry. Another fascinating example would be the transcreation of songs used in musicals, such as in Grease, High School Musical, and Hairspray. Direct translation of meaning here would probably fall well short of recreating the rhythm and rhyme typically found in songs.
  • Comics and video games. In comics and games, humor and metaphors play a leading role in dialogue, descriptions, and even user-interface (UI) elements. So the comics and video game industries often require transcreation whenever their stories and characters need to cross borders and reach new target audiences around the world. For instance, Peter Parker (alias Spiderman) is known as Pavitr Prabhakar in the Indian market. Thanks to a partnership between Marvel Comics and Gotham Entertainment, Spiderman was adapted to the Indian culture. Instead of fighting the Green Goblin in New York City, Prabhakar, clad in a dhoti, would fight the demon Rakshasa against backdrops like the Taj Mahal. This is a clear example of how sometimes, a combination of localization (adapting cultural references) and transcreation (rewriting the names of the characters) works best.

Transcreation examples in the advertising industry

Let’s take a quick look at the advertising industry and why transcreation is often most suitable when converting slogans from one language into another.

Example 1: Coke is it!

Coke is a favorite brand among marketers when it comes to highlighting examples of marketing and advertising strategies. For the purposes of this article, Coke gives us a great example of transcreation.

As part of the brand’s international marketing localization campaign, the 1982 Coke is it! slogan would be later transcreated into several different equivalents in Spanish, depending on the target locale. As a result, the slogan for the Primer Amor (First Love) commercial in Spanish reads differently depending on each Spanish variety:

  • Argentina: Coca-Cola es sentir de verdad
  • Chile, Colombia: Es sentir de verdad
  • Mexico: Coca-Cola is it
  • Peru: Coca-Cola más y más
  • Spain: Coca-Cola es así

Even Robin Beck’s First Time, First Love song is transcreated differently for the multiple Spanish versions of Coke’s commercial vs the source commercial in English. Coke has long known all about the benefits of transcreation for more effective connection and communication with local audiences.

Learn more: What is transcreation? Examples including Coke Is It Slogan

Example 2: Melts in your mouth, not in your hands

Finally, take a slogan like M&M’s Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands. As there are no particular cultural nuances, localization would operate pretty much like translation here. Translation and localization would simply render the phrase into Spanish: 

  • Se derrite en tu boca, no en tus manos (=It melts in your mouth, not in your hands). 

Now, transcreation presents us with the chance to explore an array of possibilities, focusing on recreating the effect of the message, not just the meaning. Therefore, the transcreation expert would come up with a different line altogether, such as:

  • El sabor que se derrite siempre en tu paladar, en tus manos jamás (=Flavor that always melts in your mouth, never in your hands). 
  • Se derriten siempre siempre en tu paladar, en tus manos jamás (=They always always melt in your mouth—in your hands, never).
  • La sensación del sabor en tu boca, sin derretirse en tus manos (=The sensation of flavor in your mouth, without melting in your hands).

In the sample transcreation above, M&M’s slogan in Spanish reflects the rhythmic and rhyming patterns used in the source text in English, where rhyme and rhythm are achieved through parallelism, equal timing in each of the phrases separate by the comma, alliteration in Melts/Mouth, and assonance in Mouth/Hands:

  • [Melts in Your Mouth], [Not in Your Hands]

In Spanish, a rhetorical effect is achieved by different means depending on which version we analyze. But if we take equivalents 1 and 2, we can name the alliterative sound /s/ in “sabor”/ “se” / “siempre,” the repetition of “siempre” for a gliding sound in your mouth through /s/, and the rhyming pattern in “paladar”/“jamás”:

  • El sabor que se derrite siempre en tu paladar, en tus manos jamás
  • Se derriten siempre siempre en tu paladar, en tus manos jamás


More often than not, businesses aren’t fully aware of the differences between and the benefits of using translation, localization or transcreation for their marketing communications, their products or services. 

On top of taking a look at the range of solutions a language service provider may offer you, you might need previous expert guidance and assessment  to ensure your project is in the best possible hands. 

If you feel like that could be right for you, send me a message to schedule a free consultation here or via LinkedIn.

In the meantime, I hope this article has helped you understand the key differences between translation, localization, and transcreation.

Note: None of the brand names, institutions or companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with orangepowerDMH.

Listen to the first podcast on transcreation and how brands cross borders! Have fun learning all about creative translation, copywriting, marketing, and what’s in it for your brand. Listen to Founded in Transcreation on or on your favorite platform: Spotify, YouTube, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and more!

Are you considering translating your product? Drop us a line to schedule a free consultation and explore which creative language solution would best fit your needs.

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Delfina Morganti Hernández
Delfina Morganti Hernández

My name is Delfina Morganti Hernández and I’m the founder of a strong, globally renowned personal brand known as orangepowerDMH, proudly morphing into a creative boutique of bilingual writers making things happen for brands." por "Hi, I am Delfina. I help write copy that converts and brand stories that s(w)ell for global human brands. I also mentor and coach freelance translators so they can make a living out of their profession. Want to find out more?

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