So good they’re invisible: four transcreations that do everything right

Successful translations are invisible. That makes them hard to find. We’ve selected a few prime examples of how it’s done.

For creative translators, slogans represent the ultimate challenge. They have to do much more than just communicate content in the target language and comply with cultural norms. After all, slogans are riddled with rhymes and wordplay. And – ideally – are creative, concise and emotionally charged.

The most important thing is to create a slogan that hits the same emotional notes in each language. In order for it to sound and feel natural, everything has to work – including factors like length and tone. It needs to be transcreated, not translated.

Sound abstract? It is. But these four examples help illustrate what we mean. Regardless of the language.

1. Haribo

“HARIBO macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso” (German original)

“HARIBO c’est beau la vie, pour les grands et les petits” (French)

“Kids and grown-ups love it so – the happy world of HARIBO” (English)

Kids and translators love it so – the slogan from candy kings HARIBO. The translators pinpointed exactly what makes the original so successful – tone, language and emotional impact – and deftly transferred these aspects into the target languages, even as the words themselves differ.

2. McDonald’s

“I’m lovin’ it” (English original)

“Ich liebe es” (German)

“Me encanta” (Spanish)

“我就喜歡” (Chinese)

Many consider McDonald’s to be the epitome of culturally insensitive globalization. But we’d like to disagree – at least when it comes to language. The corporate giant has demonstrated a flair for cultural subtleties in the transcreation of its world-famous slogan. For example, the Spanish version is much closer to “I really like it” than “I’m lovin’ it”.

Why? “Amar”, the Spanish word for “to love”, is closely associated with romance and passion. While Americans can love cars or even a burger, this would come off as a bit – ahem – kooky among Spanish speakers. The same goes for the Chinese translation. Directly translated, it means “I like it”. The slogan refrains from using the word for “love” (愛), which is rarely spoken aloud in China.

3. VW

“Volkswagen. Das Auto.” (German original)

Over in Wolfsburg, VW has taken the idea of an invisible transcreation literally: they’ve avoided translating their slogan altogether. The German slogan has been used around the world for years. A clever checkmate move by brand strategists. What else could as effectively convey the core message, “The mother of all German cars”? Sadly, this marketing gem fell victim to the diesel scandal in 2016. Since then, VW has been a bit more modest, and its marketing team have ditched the confident slogan.

4. Swiffer

“When Swiffer’s the one, consider it done” (English original)

“La polvere non dura, perché Swiffer la cattura” (Italian)

This example from 1999 achieves the seemingly impossible: an improvement on the original. In English, the Italian slogan means something like “Dust doesn’t stay around, since it’s caught by Swiffer”. The tone and emotional message (Swiffer makes lives easier) remain the same, and the slogan simultaneously touches on the product’s benefits – its ability to clear dust!

In conclusion: transcreating slogans is hard work. Reconciling different languages, cultures and marketing considerations – within in a single sentence, no less – can often verge on the impossible. To be successful, you have to be creative and have the courage to differ from the original where necessary. Or have the right partner.

Cover image via Flickr: Invisible – Florian Bugiel (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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