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SLOGANS - Translation, localisation, transcreation, copywriting?

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Slogans, catchphrases, taglines, impactful messages, shock formulas: translation, localisation, transcreation or copywriting? Which option for which results?

What is more essential to a brand, a company, than its logo… and its slogan? That little inner music that makes us love a product or service, identify with it - and pledge our loyalty to it - or even turn us into true evangelists?

But as a creative linguist_translator - or copywriter - how do you "translate" as accurately as possible - or rather transpose into another language and culture - a slogan, a catchphrase, a tagline, an impactful message, a shock formula?

Is there a simple, universal recipe that applies to all situations? A magic formula?

In other words, can an advertising slogan or a short message designed to have a (strong) impact on its target audience, simply be translated into another language (i.e. marketing translation), or should we systematically turn to a more creative translation rooted in the collective unconscious? Like transcreation, i.e. creative translation

Emotions, when you hold us (!)

Key to any message: creating a “positive” emotion in the reader will lead them to act, react and interact in a constructive way (for all), insofar there will be appropriation of the message and identification with the cause or the positioning of the brand.

A few weeks ago, I allowed myself a family getaway on the beautiful and contrasted island of Gran Canaria, in the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands.

Love at first sight for this island, but also "encounter" with a message that is as simple as it is effective. A message whose basic aim is to encourage citizens to take sustainable action through the selective recycling of waste in public spaces.

Nothing too exotic so far...

In a village, collection bins are placed with the message: "Tu papel es importante".

Literally translated into English, it would read: “Your paper is important”. But we would neglect here what makes the beauty or at least the strength of the message, which is based precisely on a play on words (double meaning) that is very specific to the word “papel” in Spanish.

In fact, “Papel” means both “paper” and “role”.

From there, could we simply translate it as “Your paper is important” or “Your role is important”?

Or should we instead seek, through transcreation - or even through copywriting if transcreation were to prove its shortcomings - a version that preserves that delicate play on words, while working perfectly well in French... and ensuring, in the process, that we retain that little inspired and inspiring smile on the faces of ordinary citizens, when they deposit their recyclable waste in the appropriate bins - in a superbly eco-responsible gesture.

I would say there that are no rules, but as a general rule :), a short advertising message cannot and should not be just a dull transposition from one language to another, as this could lead to the opposite effect, to a message that falls flat, or worse, to misunderstanding or sarcasm from the target audience.

By the way, what is a slogan?

Leaving aside the "shock" political slogans, which unfortunately quite often sell a sweet dream whose limitations are quickly revealed, a slogan is a concise and original advertising phrase, designed to instil the name of a product or brand in the minds of the public.

Simple translation has its limits and can hardly transpose a complex and profound message into another language and culture and engage a target audience; unless the source message is universal with the same or similar cultural anchoring as in the new market. Which is rarely the case...

For some slogans in English - with a global vocation - the choice is made to leave it as it is in the other target markets, because it is understandable in the language of Shakespeare - or more often in that of Faulkner or Hemingway - or even impossible (?) to translate or else, a choice is made of a global uniqueness in terms of brand message.

In practice, provided an inclusive approach is taken - i.e. working hand in hand with the client, the local stakeholders in the target market, the transcreation or copywriting and/or communication agency and the copywriter vs transcreator - everything is possible, even reinventing the impossible. The impossible is only the beginning.

As a famous shoemaker would say: "Just Do It", (+ author's addition) because "I'm lovin' it". Yes, as a transcreator and copywriter, challenges, "I like it". "That's what I like" in this job where, through sweating, questioning, white pages turning gray then white again and finally taking on pretty colors after much back and forth between the different stakeholders... the words magic appears!

Let's take the example of a Belgian brand of (electric?) bicycles, which, in its French (for France) marketing speech, would retain a term commonly used in Belgium like navetteur (i.e. commuter), but which in France might not have the expected impact, the required identification. In fact, in france (and even in English), this term mainly refers to people who travel quite long distances between two cities daily - and mainly by public transport...

Could a localisation be appropriate? Probably yes, by choosing a more explicit (and modern?) term for a French (from France) target audience. Velotaffeur? Or why not "Cyclonavetteur" (i.e. neologism for cycling commuters), which would at least provide the advantage of clearly indicating the means of transport involved.

“Make our planet great again”

To get back to my "famous" selective sorting container (or waste sorting container to avoid an unfortunate redundancy), it may be time to Make our planet great again!

These bouncy words are those of Emmanuel Macron, spoken in June 2017, when he had just entered the Elysée Palace. This phrase is very rarely translated into French, as it was intended to provocatively, and ironically, hijack Donald Trump's campaign slogan "Make America great again".

A few quick translation (or rather transcreation) suggestions could recreate in French – although imperfectly – this slogan Made in France vs USA.

For instance:

  • Rendre / Rendons à notre planète sa grandeur (Making / Let's make our planet great again)

  • Redonner à notre planète toute sa grandeur (Restoring our planet to its former greatness or grandeur)

  • Donner / Donnons à notre planète un avenir meilleur (Offering / Let's offer our planet a better tomorrow)

  • Donner / Donnons à notre planète un avenir heureux / radieux (?) (Giving / Let's give our planet a happy (bright?) / radiant (?) future)

  • Donner / Donnons à notre planète une seconde vie / chance (Granting / Let's grant our planet a second life / chance)

  • Donner / Donnons à notre planète un nouveau / second souffle (Giving / Let's give our planet a new breath/ a second wind)

  • Donner / Donnons à notre planète un nouvel éclat (Giving / Let's give our planet a new shine or sparkle)

  • Promettons à notre planète un meilleur avenir (Promising our planet a better future)

  • Parions sur un avenir durable pour notre planète (Let's pledge for or commit to a sustainable future for our planet)

  • Redonnons de l'espoir à notre planète (Let's bring hope back to our planet)

  • Rendons à notre planète ce qui lui revient (Let's give our planet back what's rightfully its/hers)

  • Rendons à notre planète son sourire (Let's make our planet smile again)

Author's note: these suggestions (in French only, as the English version is only proposed here to make the French version understandable in its nuances to an English-speaking audience), correspond to a first quick “draft” of the work of transcreation. As this is a slogan, we can really see here the sometimes tenuous & blurred line between the work of transcreation and that of copywriting. As transcreation allows us to move away from the client's source text and message - and to varying degrees - depending on the client's expectations, it often happens that we opt for a copywriting approach instead (a blank page so to speak), taking into account the original slogan and the other elements and indications from the brief, TOV, etc. in order to make an initial proposal to the client. This will then correspond to the first level of raw exchange between the client and his interlocutors.

  • It must be noted that in order to do this, it is essential to have several days to gradually refine your proposals, shake them up, rework them, then let the dough rest overnight and pick up the creative thread. Then start a second or even third cycle between the stakeholders...

First rough draft of transcreation_copywriting work

Well, we are now at… the French rendering of our famous waste sorting containers.

Here is a jumble of proposals for equivalents of the Spanish slogan:

« Tu papel es importante » 

This is again a rough draft of an exercise of transcreation_copywriting. This message must be accompanied by a visual supporting this action, this slogan:

  • Les petits gestes (pour la planète) font (toute) la différence / les forêts de demain / les grands changements (Small gestures\actions (for the planet) make (all) the difference\tomorrow's forests\big changes)

  • Un geste simple mais essentiel / vital (A simple but essential\vital gesture\action)

  • Un geste simple et doux pour la planète (A simple and gentle\smooth gesture\action for the\our planet)

  • La nature des petits gestes (The nature\power of small gestures\actions)

  • Les petits gestes d'aujourd'hui font les grands changements de demain (Today's small gestures make tomorrow's big changes\differences)

  • Les petits gestes Nature (The little Nature gestures\actions)

  • Les petits gestes naturels (The small natural gestures\actions\things)

  • L’écho-logique de vos actions du quotidien (+ icône d’une planète qui sourit, qui dit « Merci ! ») [The ech()o-logic of your everyday actions (+ icon of a smiling planet saying "Thank you")]

  • A voté ! Action en cours… (Voted! Action\Work in progress...

  • Les petits gestes durables (Small sustainable actions)

  • Les petits gestes verts/responsables/écocitoyens (Small green\responsible\eco-citizen gestures\actions)

  • Les petits gestes qui font les grandes forêts [The little things\actions\gestures that make (the) big forests]

  • Les petits gestes qui font sourire les forêts (The little things\actions\gestures that make the forests smile)

  • Les petits gestes qui font du bien [(The) Little things\actions\gestures that do good\feel good\make you feel good]

  • Les petits gestes d’amour pour la planète (Small gestures/deeds/actions of love for the planet)

  • Les petits gestes qui disent « Je t’aime » à notre planète [(The) Small gestures\actions that say "I love you" to our planet]

  • Petits gestes, Grands impacts (Small gestures\actions, big impacts)

  • Les petits gestes pour la planète [(The) Small gestures\actions for the planet]

  • Vos petits gestes pour la planète (Your small actions/gestures/contributions for the planet)

  • Agissons pour la planète (Let's act\do our bit for the planet)

  • Les petits gestes simplement bons / verts / durables (Small actions that are simply good\green\sustainable)

  • Au-delà des gestes, votre action (Beyond gestures, your action)

  • Au-delà des paroles, votre action (Beyond words, your action)

  • Les petits gestes qui rendent la planète verte et bleue (The little things\gestures\actions that make the planet green and blue)

  • Petits gestes et Grande planète / et belle planète / verte planète (Small gestures\actions and Big\Great planet OR and beautiful planet OR green planet)

  • Les petits papiers font les grandes forêts (Small papers make big forests)

  • Chaque geste compte [Every (single) gesture\action means a lot\matters\counts]

  • Même les plus petits gestes sont essentiels (Even the smallest gestures\things\actions are essential\make the difference)

  • Vos petits gestes font les forêts de demain (Your small actions\gestures make tomorrow's forests)

  • Vos petits gestes durables (Your small sustainable\eco-friendly\green actions\gestures)

  • Vos (petites) actions éco-logiques (comptent) (avec chiffres à l’appui sur exercice précédent par exemple) [Your (small) eco-logical actions count\matter\make the difference) - with figures from the previous year, for example, showing the advances already made]

  • Vos petites actions durables du quotidien (Your small\little day-to-day sustainable actions)

  • Ensemble, préservons notre planète (Together, let's\we can preserve OR preserving our planet)

  • Ton engagement fait (toute) la différence [Your commitment makes (all) the difference]

  • Agis pour une terre plus verte (Act for a greener Earth\planet)

  • Chaque action compte, protégeons notre environnement [Every\Each action counts\matters, (let's) protect our environment]

  • Tri sélectif, l’écho-logique [Selective sorting, (the) ec(h)o-logic]

  • Tri sélectif, bien-être collectif (Selective sorting, collective well-being)

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