Bigger than bigger – more transcreation than translation

2014-09-12

One of the biggest discussions in the world of English to Chinese translation recently was if the translation of the Apple slogan ‘Bigger than bigger’ on the mainland China website was too literal. The answer was obvious—it only took one day for Apple to react to the public's feedback and change the translation from the awkward and almost nonsensical '比更大还更大' (Literal Chinese version: 'bigger than bigger') to the elegant and pleasing '岂止于大' (Transcreated Chinese version: 'greater than bigger' or 'greater than being bigger'), i.e. there is more to this new iPhone than simply being bigger. Apple may be big, but this time it was not clever.

We had an interesting discussion about this at Nescit. For those who don't understand Chinese, the following will give you the essentials. The initial translation contained simple language, just as the English did, but the nuance of these words in the respective language differs significantly. In English, the impression created is of simplistic grandeur, artfully combining the concept of a larger handset and more advanced features included into an uncomplicated phrase, i.e. the new features included makes the 6 bigger than just the increased size. In Chinese, however, this wordplay is overshadowed by the elementary level Chinese phrasing, leaving the target audience underwhelmed and unimpressed by the rudimentary level of linguistic complexity. There is a suggestion of the intended double meaning, but its transmission to the audience is hindered by the linguistic differences between Chinese and English; the initial Chinese translation lacked in elegance and sophistication.

The localization of a logo, a product name and a tag line is one of the most important things to consider before you enter into a new market. How do the words sound in the target language? Is the translation aligned with the brand’s positioning? Are there any negative or offensive connotations? What is the significance of the colors used in the target locale? All this goes beyond straightforward translation. When it comes to marketing materials, what we do at Sprakab is transcreation, not translation. When we approach the project, we take into consideration a host of different factors, from the target market culture and specific target segment to the company’s market positioning and corporate values. These factors must impact the transcreation and our collaboration with linguists, engineers, designers and marketing staff.

An example of this is a recent naming and branding activity carried out by our China partner Lan-bridge, a member of Transverbum Partners. The client was Swedish oven-manufacturer Sveba-Dahlen, who, after years of using their Swedish name and selling through third parties, wanted to sell directly, and therefore needed to brand and position themselves in Chinese for the Chinese market. Instead of rushing in with a hastily chosen name to use on brochures and the website, Sveba-Dahlen chose the Transverbum China office to develop a name and logo that were both true to the brand and made sense to its target audience. Phonetically, the new Chinese name sounds like the original Swedish name, even to a Western ear. Visually, the first three Chinese characters represent strength and unbreakable quality, with the final character representing energy. The new Chinese name not only sounds the same as the original, but its visual presentation is aligned with the brand’s positioning. For years to come, Sveba-Dahlen will reap the rewards of working closely with their translation partner to come up with a name that strikes all the right chords. 

The take-away is of course not to let transcreation be an afterthought. Work with your translation partner to help staff members understand your corporate values, market positioning, and marketing strategies. It means they will ultimately produce a ‘Better than better’ creative translation that helps you make a ‘Bigger than bigger’ return on your investment overseas. 

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